The UK’s Supreme Court has ruled that Uber must classify drivers as workers rather than self-employed freelancers.
Following a unanimous decision from six judges, the court ruled that Uber drivers across Britain will now be entitled to basic employment rights, which include a minimum wage, holiday pay and protection from discrimination.
GMB Union described the ruling as a “historic” victory which draws to a close a lengthy legal battle with the ride-hailing app.
“This has been a gruelling four-year legal battle for our members – but it’s ended in a historic win,” said Mick Rix, GMB National Officer.
“Uber must now stop wasting time and money pursuing lost legal causes and do what’s right by the drivers who prop up its empire,” he added.
The legal dispute first arose in 2016 when former Uber drivers, Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, won an employment tribunal against Uber. Initially, Uber appealed the decision, but the ruling was upheld in 2017 by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
In December 2018, the case was escalated to the High Court, which once again upheld the ruling.
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Yaseen Aslam, co-lead claimant and president of the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU), welcomed the ruling and said he hopes it will force the UK Government to carry out a closer examination of the gig economy.
“I am overjoyed and greatly relieved by this decision which will bring relief to so many workers in the gig economy who so desperately need it,” he said.
“During the six years of these proceedings, we have watched the government commission and then shelve a review of the gig economy yet do nothing to help us. I hope in future the government will choose to carry out its duty to enforce the law and protect the most vulnerable from exploitation.”
The court heavily criticised Uber’s practices and its denial of basic workers rights to drivers for several years. Additionally, it criticised the highly controversial contracts which Uber has forced drivers to sign.
“Laws such as the National Minimum Wage Act were manifestly enacted to protect those whom Parliament considers to be in need of protection and not just those who are designated by their employer as qualifying for it,” the court said.
Co-lead claimant James Farrar, who serves as general secretary of the ADCU, said the ruling will “fundamentally re-order the gig economy” and “bring an end to rife exploitation of workers by means of algorithmic and contract trickery”.
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A key focus of the case centred around Uber’s acknowledgement of when Uber drivers officially begin ‘working’.
Traditionally, Uber drivers have had no official ‘clocking in’ process other than logging into the app. Furthermore, drivers spend a significant portion of their ‘shifts’ waiting for passengers to book rides.
Uber previously warned that if its drivers were officially classified as workers then it would only pay wages for when a job is in process.
The court rejected this argument and clarified that, for the purpose of calculating minimum wage and holiday pay, working times would be set from the moment a driver logs into the app to when they log-off – and this will include any standby time during a shift.
“Uber drivers are cruelly sold a false dream of endless flexibility and entrepreneurial freedom,” Farrar said. “The reality has been illegally low pay, dangerously long hours and intense digital surveillance.”