The UK’s highest court has upheld the High Court’s decision that the Uber drivers are not self-employed and should be classed as workers, meaning they are entitled to a wage, holiday pay and sick pay.
In what has been described as a landmark case for the gig economy, Lord Justice Leggatt said that the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the drivers worked “for and under” Uber, despite the written contractual agreement, and were in fact working from the moment they logged into the app.
He said that “it was wrong in principle to treat the written agreements as a starting point in deciding whether an individual is a worker” and the services provided was “very tightly defined and controlled by Uber.”
Leggatt added that the purpose of employment law is to protect “vulnerable individuals who have little or no say in their pay and working conditions”.
The case against Uber was originally brought to an employment tribunal by former Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam in October 2016. Despite winning the case, Uber has appealed the decision every step of the way arguing that drivers are self-employed.
Paul Jennings, partner at Bates Well – the law firm representing the claimants – said: “The Supreme Court’s judgement is a clear and powerful restatement of the importance of basic employment protections. It will shape the future cases concerning the gig economy.”
In response to the ruling, industry experts are saying the case highlights the need for the UK’s employment law to be clarified.
Andy Chamberlain, director of policy at IPSE, said: “There is a glaring need for clarity in this area. The gig economy is enormously complex, including many people who are legitimately self-employed and many others who really, based on their working circumstances, should be classed as workers.”
“It is a patchwork of grey areas between employment and self-employment: the only way to resolve this tangle is to clarify employment status in UK law.”
Employment status expert Seb Maley, CEO at Qdos, added: “The ruling should serve as a stark reminder to businesses that employment status isn’t always clear cut, and that decisions must be made carefully. If a firm engages an individual under the wrong status, the cost – both financially and reputationally – can be massive.
“But while many gig economy workers want greater protection and employment benefits, we shouldn’t assume that all self-employed people need them. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people working for themselves who want to remain entirely independent.”
Industry professionals believe this ruling will set a precedent for other app-based services that use this business model such as Deliveroo and UberEats.
In fact, Deliveroo is already facing a court battle over whether its drivers can join trade unions.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain has brought a case against the Central Arbitration Committee over the High Court’s decision in 2018 that Deliveroo riders cannot form a collective bargaining unit because they are self-employed and can have another person substitute for them.
Speaking about the Deliveroo case, Elena Cooper, employment consultant at Discreet Law, said: “Whatever the judgement, gig workers really should start considering their own options and taking control of how they want to be categorised moving forward.
“If an individual wants trade union representation, there are inevitable consequences arising from that decision, for both parties.”