Uber Tribunal – Floodgate for employment claims?

Uber has appeared before an employment tribunal following claims by two of its drivers that it is acting unlawfully by not offering them employment rights such as holiday pay and the National Minimum Wage. Uber categorises its drivers as self-employed contractors and therefore it does not provide them with employment rights and benefits. However, a case against Uber has been taken by 19 drivers who argue that they are, in reality, workers and not self-employed contractors. Two test cases, backed by the GMB union, have now been heard at the Central London employment tribunal. The tribunal’s judgement will have massive implications for our industry.

Uber’s position seems to be that the drivers can pick their own hours and work completely flexibly and that it is a technology company, not a taxi company.

Passengers pay Uber directly for the journey through the app and then a percentage of that payment is passed on to the driver. Lawyers for the GMB argue that Uber exerts significant control over its drivers, in respect of the hours they work and what they earn, and the terms and conditions of their work means that they are not self-employed; rather they are ‘workers’.

UK employment law currently recognises three general categories of employment status: employees, workers and the self-employed. Workers have fewer rights than employees but they are still entitled to a number of key rights, including the National Minimum Wage, holiday pay, working time rights (e.g. rest breaks and maximum weekly working hours), pension auto-enrollment and protection from discrimination.

The employment tribunal will now need to consider whether the drivers factually satisfy the legal definition of a worker as set out in the various pieces of applicable legislation – how a relationship is labelled is not decisive of its legal status.

Although not a stranger to litigation elsewhere, this is the first time that Uber has faced legal action in the UK of this sort.

If the drivers’ claims succeed, and subject to any appeal, it means they will potentially be entitled to the range of employment rights and benefits available to workers.

Successful claims against Uber are also likely to open the floodgates to similar claims against other companies that categorise their workforce as self-employed. I will be writing about this and what it will mean to us as an industry in more detail soon and we will all be watching to see the result.