Uber, which considers its drivers independent contractors, has been hit with a series of class-action lawsuits in the US this year (and cut a deal to forestall another potential action in New York City) by drivers seeking to be reclassified as employees, entitling them to minimum wage protections, health insurance coverage, and other benefits, which the ridesharing platform contends would prove fatal to its business model. Now, Uber’s troubles have spread across the Atlantic, as a hearing begins in a UK employment tribunal where drivers are asking to be treated as workers rather than self-employed businesses, Hilary Osborne reports for the Guardian:
In a tribunal hearing described as “the case of the year in UK employment law”, lawyers working for a group of Uber drivers will argue that the terms and conditions of their work with the company mean that they are not technically self-employed and should be entitled to a range of benefits that they currently do not receive. … The case against Uber is being taken by 19 drivers, with two test cases starting on 20 July. The ride-hailing app has about 30,000 drivers in London, all of whom are designated as self-employed.
Annie Powell, a solicitor at law firm Leigh Day who will represent the drivers, said the case hinged on two things: the nature of Uber’s business and the control it had over drivers. “Uber is arguing that it is a technology company and that it does not provide a transport service to customers, it just puts them in touch with drivers,” she said.
Powell said the hearing would seek to prove that this was not the case, and that because drivers were subject to ratings and were not told where customers needed to be dropped off, they were not operating as self-employed businesses. “We are arguing that they are workers … Workers have fewer rights than employees, but are entitled to the national minimum wage, holiday pay, the right not to be discriminated against and the right not to have deductions made from their salary,” she said.
The implications of this case are far-reaching, Osborne adds, as a victory for these drivers would provide ammunition for Uber drivers in similar suits in other countries. Additionally, similar cases are being brought against several bicycle courier services the operate on Uber-like platform models. The Uber case, which is supported by the British general trade union GMB, could also bring the country’s unions back into prominence as representatives of gig economy workers.