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Uber Finally Reaches its Destination

Way back in 2017, I wrote about the case of Uber BV v Aslam and ors and a ruling by the EAT which stated that Uber drivers are workers, for the purposes of employment law rights in the UK. Far from being the end of the road, however, the case continued its journey to the Supreme Court. The decision, which was live-streamed at the end of last month (February 2021), supported the action of the drivers and the fact that they are to be regarded as workers for the purpose of employment rights in the UK.

Why this case is so important

This case has captivated the nation for several years. Why? For the simple reason that the decision impacts many 21st century businesses which operate in a similar way to Uber, in the grey area between employment and self-employment.

Now, finally, we have some degree of clarity. Uber drivers are workers, not self-employed contractors, and are entitled to employment rights including holiday pay, rest breaks and minimum wage.

Uber’s argument had hinged on its claim that it is a software company, providing an App platform, rather than a taxi firm. Uber insisted that it was an intermediary app-based service, bringing together people who need a taxi with drivers who are willing to provide that service. The contract, it said, was between passenger and driver and not with Uber.

Why Uber lost

The Supreme Court highlighted the following points as demonstrating that the drivers do work for Uber, in the sense that they should be regarded as workers:

  • When journeys are booked via the Uber app, Uber sets the fare
  • Uber sets the contract terms for the service
  • The drivers have no say in the fare or terms
  • Although drivers can choose whether or not to accept a customer request when they are logged into the app, this choice is constrained by Uber
  • Uber exercises significant control over the way drivers deliver their services, one of which is a rating system which can result in the termination of the driver’s working relationship with Uber
  • Communication between passenger and driver is restricted by Uber to the specific trip

What does this mean for the gig economy?

The Supreme Court rejected the argument that Uber is merely an agency or intermediary. This will have implications for businesses that work in a similar way, using an app-based service to connect customers with service providers.

The decision is a positive one in terms of workers’ rights.

Employers, on the other hand, will be urgently reviewing how they use contracted staff – and not just those companies that use an app to connect with their customers.

The circumstances of the Uber case are fairly specific, due to the app-based model. Other business models could, however, be found to be incompatible with genuine self-employment and companies in this bracket would be wise to review their practices in light of the Uber decision. Any business that uses freelance support should look carefully at the agreements they have in place and the terms under which these freelancers operate to ensure they are genuinely self-employed.