Uber Drivers in the UK Have Won the Right to be Employees

Employment Tribunal decides drivers are not "self-employed."

Oct 28 2016, 2:53pm

Image: Shutterstock

Drivers working for Uber in the United Kingdom have won the right to be classed as real employees of the company—rather than contractors, as they are presently—and are therefore entitled to be paid the national minimum wage (£7.20). The move comes after an employment tribunal decided today the drivers are not "self-employed."

The decision could turn Uber's business model on its head in the UK, as all of its British drivers—around 40,000—could now apply for basic employment rights such as holiday pay and paid breaks.

But Uber has said it will appeal against the ruling, which was brought against it by two Uber drivers.

Jo Bertram, the regional manager of Uber in the UK, said in a statement today, "Tens of thousands of people in London drive with Uber precisely because they want to be self-employed and their own boss. The overwhelming majority of drivers who use the Uber app want to keep the freedom and flexibility of being able to drive when and where they want. While the decision of this preliminary hearing only affects two people we will be appealing it."

Read more: The Sharing Economy of Disaster Relief

Uber's defense is this: The San Francisco-based company believes it is a pure technology company that hires self-employed contractors that can work as they want. But this means that the drivers are also not entitled to the same standard of rights regular employees get.

But the trade union GMB, which acted on the behalf of Uber drivers using two test cases, argued that drivers should be entitled to full worker benefits, and that Uber is acting unlawfully by not granting these rights.

"Uber runs a transportation business," read GMB's argument, "the drivers provide the skilled labor through which the organisation delivers its services and earns its profits."

One of the drivers in the case says he was receiving just £5.02 per hour in August after costs and fees were deducted. "Lawyers for the drivers also argued that Uber acts unlawfully by frequently deducting sums from drivers' pay, often without informing the drivers in advance, including when customers make complaints," said GMB.

"Bogus self-employment trap"

"Uber drivers and thousands of others caught in the bogus self-employment trap will now enjoy the same rights as employees. This outcome will be good for passengers too. Properly rewarded drivers are the same side of the coin as drivers who are properly licensed and driving well maintained and insured vehicles."

But Uber maintains that the case is just preliminary, and that the decision only affects the two specific drivers in the tribunal.

The decision comes after several high-profile class-action lawsuits in the US also sought to force Uber to recognize drivers as employees entitled to labor protections and certain benefits, though these were later overturned.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.