Image: Stockphoto

Court ruling for Uber drivers strikes heart of ‘gig economy’

Uber drivers are ‘workers’ who should receive a minimum wage, holiday pay and other employee protections the UK Supreme Court ruled in an “unanimous and emphatic victory” for drivers on Friday.


Image: Stockphoto

Uber drivers are “workers” entitled to the benefits of the minimum wage the UK Supreme Court ruled on Friday in a watershed judgment that is likely to upset the ‘gig economy’ model with a possible ripple effect globally.

Bates Wells attorneys who represented lead claimants,  James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, in thus first Supreme Court case concerning the status of an estimated 5.5 million individuals employed within the ‘gig economy’ described the ruling as a “unanimous and emphatic victory for drivers”. The Judgment underscores the fundamental importance of basic employment protections and guarantees the national minimum wage, health & safety protection, holiday pay and anti-discrimination rights for Uber drivers, the lawyers said.

Long battle for Uber drivers won

Following a five year legal battle Bates Wells attorneys Paul Jennings and Rachel Mathieson successfully secured the court ruling which held that Uber drivers are “workers”. The case will have an enormous impact on an estimated 45,000 Uber drivers in London, one of Uber’s biggest markets internationally. It will also have a significant impact on the rights of millions of other gig economy workers in the UK.

In 2016, following a hearing before the Central London Employment Tribunal, Judge Snelson ruled that Uber had used ‘fictions’ and ‘twisted Language’ to mischaracterise the employment status of its fleet of drivers. Uber had argued that its only role was to provide technology services and act as an agent for drivers. The Supreme Court found that there was “no factual basis for Uber’s contention that Uber London acts as an agent for drivers when accepting private hire bookings”.

Now, the Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that the original Judgment of the Employment Tribunal was “the only conclusion which the Tribunal could reasonably have reached”. The Supreme Court endorsed the view that the courts should adopt a test that focuses on the reality of the day-to-day relationship and in doing so, emphasised that courts must take into account the imbalance of bargaining power between the parties. 

Farrar and Aslam were delighted with the ruling in favour of Uber drivers.

“This ruling will fundamentally re-order the gig economy and bring an end to rife exploitation of workers by means of algorithmic and contract trickery. 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. I am delighted that workers at last have some remedy as a result of this ruling, but the government must urgently strengthen the law so that gig workers may also have access to sick pay and protection from unfair dismissal.”

 Aslam said the ruling would bring relief to desperate workers.

“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,” Aslam said.

Gig economy fundamentally upset

Jennings said Farrar and Aslam had shown “extraordinary courage and resilience during the trial”. 

“They have been pitted against a multi-billion dollar company in litigation that has lasted half a decade and they have succeeded. Their success will have an enormously beneficial impact, which will be felt across the entire gig economy. The Supreme Court’s Judgment is a clear and powerful restatement of the importance of basic employment protections. It will shape all future cases concerning the gig economy,” Farrar said.

“The ruling strikes at the heart of Uber’s business model. We anticipate there will be a significant class action against Uber.”

 Bates Wells senior associate Rachel Mathieson said it had been a “long and hard-fought battle.”

“The judgment has made it clear that it is not open to gig employers to pick and choose its rules – if the law mandates that these individuals should be paid national minimum wage then there is no contract that can escape that. Today’s judgment is a crucial milestone in the protection of individuals in our modern economy,” Mathieson said.

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