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Uber loses in the Supreme Court

Mar 3, 2021

Author: Anthony Purvis

Uber recently lost the final round of a five-year legal battle brought by some of its drivers.  The key question in dispute was:  were the Uber drivers truly self-employed or were they workers and entitled to certain employment rights as a consequence, including national minimum wage and paid holidays?
 
It’s important to note that in the UK there are three types of employment status.  A person can be employed, which applies to most working in traditional businesses and roles, enjoying the statutory rights and legal protections that come with this status.  A person can be self-employed and, again, most of us understand what this means in practice, but the self-employed have little or no statutory rights.  The third category is that of worker and it is akin to self-employment but the law affords some of the rights enjoyed by employees to those who are workers.  Uber treats its drivers as self-employed and the Supreme Court was asked to determine whether or not this was correct or if in fact the claimants in this case were workers.
 
In order for the drivers to be workers they had to show that they were contracted to perform work or services for Uber.  Uber said that this was not the case because it only provided a technology platform and acted as an intermediary, whilst the drivers provided their services to the app’s users.  The Supreme Court very much disagreed with this analysis for a number of reasons, in particular:
•    The drivers could not determine the fares in any meaningful way, as a self-employed person would be able to.
•    Uber dictated the contractual terms of the relationship, which were not open to negotiation by the drivers.
•    Uber exercised a significant degree of control over the drivers by monitoring their acceptance and cancellations rates, as well as their customer ratings, before penalising underperformers.  Uber also controlled how the drivers provided their services (by requiring a particular route to be taken) and limited communications between the drivers and the app’s users.

The decision was a resounding loss for Uber and they have no further right of appeal.  It could well mean that Uber has to set aside money to make substantial payments to its drivers and we may see higher costs for users of the Uber app, but that remains to be seen.  Uber points out that the claims in question were brought in 2016 and it say that since then it has changed the way it does business, so it may reject the need to treat all its drivers as workers.