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Uber loses landmark employment tribunal over driver’s working rights
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Two Uber taxi drivers have won a legal case in the London Central Employment Tribunal.  The court decided that the drivers should be classified as workers rather than self-employed and therefore should be entitled to things like the National Living Wage, paid holiday and paid rest breaks.

This is potentially a big decision for workers in the ‘gig economy’ but it will by no means be the end of the story.  Uber immediately said it will appeal the decision, and the decision of an Employment Tribunal is technically not binding on other tribunals, although clearly they will look at it.

On Saturday Uber sent an email to its customers to reassure them and explain why they are appealing the tribunal decision:

You may have seen press reports that a London employment tribunal has ruled two drivers who use Uber should be classified as workers, not self-employed.

A recent poll of 1,000 drivers who use our app found that the overwhelming majority prefer being self-employed and joined Uber precisely because they want to be their own boss. Drivers want the freedom to decide where, when and for how long to drive: being classified as workers could deprive them of the personal flexibility they value.

Last month drivers who used our app in the UK made on average over £16 per hour in fares, after our service fee. Even after deducting costs, this is well above the national living wage.

We’re proud that Uber has created flexible opportunities for thousands of people to make money when and where they want. It’s why we are appealing this decision.

Jo Bertram, Regional General Manager, Uber UK

The tribunal fallout

As a result of this highly controversial case dubbed “the case of the year in employment law” there have been a number of moves to assess the working conditions of the “on-demand” or “gig-economy”.

The government has already set up an independent review of modern working practices which will look at things like the ‘gig economy’, a Parliamentary Committee has also launched an inquiry to look into UK working conditions amid exploitation fears, and the UK’s largest union, Unite, announced that its setting up a new unit to support its members and pursue bogus self-employment across all sectors.

Unite director of legal services Howard Beckett explained this move:

“For many of these workers eking out a living in the gig economy, it’s a world of insecure work and casualised labour. But instead of a tap on the shoulder or the brass tally of the docks from decades ago, workers are left waiting for a text or the beep of an app to know if they have work.

“We cannot turn the clock back to the Victorian era, the government needs to put a floor underneath all workers’ rights. Otherwise living standards will fall and peoples’ working lives become increasingly insecure.”

It’s clear that the position of Unite is at extreme odds with that of Uber whose recent driver survey paints a completely different picture, maintaining that 9 in 10 drivers are satisfied driving with Uber.

We will be reviewing the decision of the court over the coming days and putting together more detail for you on the impact of the case and the government response but, in the meantime, if you may be affected by this decision, please do call us on 0333 444 0165 for specific advice.


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