Two test cases will today (20 July 2016) be brought against taxi-app organisation Uber at the Central London Employment Tribunal, in order to determine whether drivers are entitled to employment rights such as holiday pay and a guaranteed minimum wage.
The legal action, brought by law firm Leigh Day and supported by trade union GMB, seeks to establish whether Uber drivers should be classified as workers or as self-employed.
As workers, the drivers would be entitled to be paid at least the minimum wage and would also be able to receive employment rights such as holiday pay.
Lawyers representing the drivers also claim that Uber has frequently deducted sums from drivers’ pay without informing the individual in advance.
This is the first time that Uber has faced legal action of this kind in the UK. The results of today’s hearing are expected to have an impact on a further 17 claims that have been brought against the organisation.
Jo Bertram, regional general manager at Uber UK, said: “More than 30,000 people in London drive with our app and this case only involves a very small number. The main reason people choose to partner with Uber is so they can become their own boss, pick their own hours and work completely flexibly. Many partner-drivers have left other lines of work and chosen to partner with Uber for this very reason. In fact, two-thirds of new partner-drivers joining the Uber platform have been referred by another partner.”
Annie Powell, a lawyer in the employment team at Leigh Day who is representing the drivers, said: “Uber currently denies that its drivers are entitled to the most basic of workers’ rights. Uber’s defence is that it is just a technology [organisation], not a taxi [organisation], and that Uber drivers do not work for Uber but instead work for themselves as self-employed business men and women.
“On behalf of our clients, we will claim that Uber is wrongly classifying its drivers as self-employed with the result that drivers are denied the rights and protections that Parliament intended them to have.”
Sean Nesbitt, partner in the employment team at law firm Taylor Wessing, said: “This is the case of the year in UK employment law for three reasons. First, Uber is battling a wave of litigation around the world. A US class action settlement worth between US$84-US$100million is having trouble getting judicial approval, with criticism that it is too cheap a price. The UK case will further fuel litigation in other industries, and other countries. It will be followed in the UK by cases involving cycle couriers and Pimlico Plumbers.
“Second, unlike the US and many other countries, the UK has a third way between costly employee status and low-rights self-employment status. This “worker” label is valuable because it gives some basic protections on working time and pay, and includes the right to litigate, which Uber tries to avoid with arbitration clauses. The case could highlight the advantages of the “light touch” regulated worker status unique to the UK, and serve as a model for the flexible employment solutions, which the UK may need to explore post-Brexit.
“Third, it highlights the growing opportunities for unions to regroup and reverse years of decline, by organising among the fragmented “gig economy” workforce. The case is supported by the GMB just as the couriers are supported by a union. Uber does not recognise unions in the US, and the planned settlement there involves a concession to work with a lesser drivers’ association.”