Supreme Court to make final Uber ruling

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The Supreme Court – the UK’s final court of appeal – will over the next two days hear evidence to arrive at a final ruling over the employment status of Uber drivers in the UK, bringing an end to a saga that began in 2016.

Uber BV and others v Aslam and others will establish once and for all whether or not the 45,000 drivers, mostly in London, are workers and entitled to the national minimum wage, holiday pay and paid rest breaks.

In October 2016 an employment tribunal found in favour of the drivers in a case brought by the GMB union and law firm Leigh Day.

Maria Ludkin, GMB’s legal director, at the time called it “a monumental victory”.

She said: “This loophole that has allowed unscrupulous employers to avoid employment rights, sick pay and minimum wage for their staff and costing the government millions in lost tax revenue will now be closed.”

However, Jo Bertram, then regional general manager of Uber in northern Europe (but who has since left the firm and joined O2), said: “Tens of thousands of people in London drive with Uber precisely because they want to be self-employed and their own boss.”

Uber appealed but an employment appeal tribunal in November 2017 supported the original verdict.

In December 2018 the case, which centred on whether the drivers were “workers” while they had the ride-hailing app switched on and were ready to accept work, went before the Court of Appeal. Again, the court supported the original verdict but this time not unanimously: Lord Justice Underhill disagreed with his two colleagues Sir Terence Etherton and Lord Justice Bean and wrote that it was “perfectly explicit in the Agreement that drivers provide their services to the passengers as principals, with Uber’s role being that of an intermediary”.

Bean and Etherton, however, agreed that Uber drivers were under a positive obligation to be available to accept passengers while the app is on, which amounted to “work”.

The Supreme Court case being held over 21 and 22 July will be heard by justices Lord Reed, Lord Hodge, Lady Arden, Lord Kitchin, Lord Sales, Lord Hamblen and Lord Leggatt. The claimants are Uber drivers James Farrar, Yaseen Aslan, Robert Dawson and others.

The respondents contend that, during the periods covered by their claims, they were ‘workers’ for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996, the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and the Working Time Regulations 1998. As such, the Respondents claim that they were entitled to the minimum wage, paid leave and other legal protections. The appellants argue that the Respondents were independent, third party contractors and not ‘workers’,” – the case description, from the Supreme Court’s website

The case will have significant implications on the rights of the estimated 5.5 million gig economy workers in the UK – a number that is likely to grow as the coronavirus crisis forces significant numbers of people out of work.

City law firm Bates Wells has represented the former Uber drivers bringing a case against the firm on a pro bono basis since the first appeals case.

Bates Wells associate Rachel Mathieson told Personnel Today: “One of the key issues is that if they are workers, when are they workers? Is it when the app is on – which is not accepted by Uber – or is it when there is a passenger in the car? Uber’s position is that there is no working time essentially.”

She added that there had been cases all over the world on the same issue, with similarly complex legal arguments being heard from both sides.

In March, France became the latest country to agree that Uber drivers were not self employed. In French law there is no separate worker status so the court ruled that Uber drivers were employees. Last September, California’s state senate also ruled that Uber drivers were not self employed.

12 Responses to Supreme Court to make final Uber ruling

  1. Avatar
    Dennis Conoley 21 Jul 2020 at 6:18 am #

    Because the pay is under minimum wage Uber drivers have to work enormous amounts of hours to compensate.This becomes dangerous for passengers as fatigue is often a struggle when working..Although Uber brought in a certain amount of hours before the app is switched off a driver is trying even harder to meet personal targets.The whole process becomes full of anxiety and often despair. because the pay is extremely unfair.Uber works on the more drivers the more for them basis.There is no quality about this company and they have actually no respect at all for drivers.How they are still allowed to trade i cannot imagine.I worked from 2015 to this year as I needed a job and have been stressed to the point of illness.Part timers are fine with this kind of work but full time is dangerous. They once paid me for being off ill which was a kind gesture and they could be an amazing company for drivers as well as they already are with the cheap costs for passengers but tthis is to the drivers detriment at present.

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    P Driver 21 Jul 2020 at 6:00 pm #

    I am extremely interested in the final outcome of this case as my own situation, and that of a considerable number of other drivers working for a large, UK logistics company, has many similarities with the Uber drivers. I am classed as self-employed but I work full time plus for the same company doing the same job Mon to Fri, and it has reached the point where on an hourly basis minimum wage is not even reached. There is no sick pay, or holiday pay, and I maintain that it is sheer exploitation by this company. I hope the Uber drivers win their case as it should mean that all similar companies “employing” staff will have to abide by this ruling. However, the company I work for is renowned for avoiding/delaying any payout, costs, expenses, etc in connection with carrying out their work. Good luck to the Uber drivers!

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      Smith 15 Aug 2020 at 2:58 pm #

      P Driver I can’t wait too, I am also in logistic, I am on minimum wage per hour, I get other benefit of employed worker. I have requested a pay rise but, they refused and gave me option either stay on minimum wage or became a self employed, (Ltd) on 11.50£ that include £1.50 of fuel score, which is impossible to achieve, to achieve that you become a dangerous driver by driving slowly by coasting, you get the hint. And you have to work your butt off like 70-80 hours a week, and some drivers think they get paid decently, but they don’t look at the hours they put in, if one work out maybe they are in less than the minimum wage.

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    Al 22 Jul 2020 at 2:12 pm #

    Slave wage industry even some drivers convince themselves they earn more than minimum wage ha

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    John 24 Jul 2020 at 12:32 am #

    I want this global mega big cab company to finally lose their appeal and be made to pay wages to drivers,including holiday and sick pay and that drivers employment is PROTECTED.They cant just sack them easily.

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    Martin Mc Cafferty 28 Jul 2020 at 3:20 am #

    Let’s hope this case sets a new benchmark for fairness and transparency, examples of these contracts are clearly designed to exclude statutory rights for the workforce and exonerate Uber from any responsibility or liability as an employer.

    This contract is a garble of words. It is misleading and designed to confuse. A favourable decision for Aslam & Farrar will enhance confidence in our Justice System and help millions of low paid workers across the UK to gain access to justice in similar circumstances.

    Unfortunately we have many more examples of employers exploiting the lowest paid workers in the UK and as one MP suggested most recently “they are a national disgrace”. Even the lowest paid deserve accesses to justice.

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    Lee 13 Aug 2020 at 7:10 am #

    Why should drivers be treated like slaves so the rich can get richer..These drivers have families and don’t see their kids grow as their hours are ridiculously long and unsociable which can lead to poor mental health..Minimum wage and Living wage is there for a reason.

  7. Avatar
    Mark Lewis 14 Aug 2020 at 1:07 pm #

    This case has little to do with the minimum wage… Ubers drivers earn more than the minimum wage. If the drivers become workers, Uber loses its status as a technology company and becomes a transport company, liable to pay VAT on all money it receives. £1.3bn per annum going back to the original ruling of the employment tribunal. Unfortunately they will then need to charge the customers more and pay their drivers less. Be careful what you wish for!

    • Avatar
      Brian 17 Aug 2020 at 6:40 pm #

      If they don’t want to pay taxes they can leave , plenty of other apps that can cover the work .

  8. Avatar
    wun 4 Jan 2021 at 12:04 pm #

    I have been working in the gig economy for the last 10 years at least. I have been slowly educating myself in employment law and have been watching these companies and their court cases closely.

    I am gradually coming to the conclusion that these companies are leading the working classes into a state of modern slavery. That is a technical term ‘Moder Slavery’ which pertains to the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

    They groom people with the opportunity of self employment and flexible hours. One ends up in exactly the opposite situation. The way it really works is since they now have no obligation to offer you a set number of hours, they use work as an a punishment & reward system to make you work longer hours for less pay and to correct any behaviour they find undesirable like not being nice enough or not doing favours when asked.

    I am seeing young guys in their twenties sitting outside on the curbs in the freezing wet weather at all hours of night and morning waiting with their bicycles for their next pickup. I swear they are always there and I do not know when they sleep. They are making between £2 – £5 per hour and certainly working 80 – 100 hours a week. It is a joke. It is pure exploitation.

    As far as I can tell the defence in this case is basing their submission on the idea that parties have a right to contract. How can anybody have a right to contract when they practically have no choice but to accept the terms written down for them? How are people who are ignorant of the law supposed to know any better? We just want jobs that will allow us to save and make something of ourselves. These jobs are oppressive and they are ruining and wasting peoples lives so the technocracy can live in luxury and work in nice shiny glass buildings and use mac books and iphones.

    CAC decided Deliveroo riders are not self-employed because crucially they have a right to substitute. Fair enough, it was only for the purpose of collective bargaining but still nobody uses those substitution clauses. They have no economic benefit whatsoever. Moreover, they’re inserted by the company(Deliveroo). The individual does not draw the contract up. It is not like we are saying yay we want a substitution clause. Legitimate professional contractors who know what they are doing use substitution clauses because it is a good indication to HMRC that they are self employed. Now any company like Deliveroo who wants to make their employees look self employed, simply sticks in a substitution clause and abra cadabra, be home before midnight or you may get minimum wage and holiday pay, or better yet a life.

    These people are digging their own graves because if this problem does not get fixed now, it is simply going to develop in something a lot more difficult to fix in the future. Do we seriously believe that the people of the west are going to allow themselves to fall into this trap? If that is what they believe they had better tough up and ready themselves because it ain’t not going to be easy on them. This may pass off in China but it will not happen here!

    • Avatar
      Helen hughes 16 Jan 2021 at 5:16 pm #

      I brought this up with the taxi company I work for, along with my disagreement in regards to the covid retention payments being passed to me and other drivers. I was sacked I have taken it to a tribunal and at this time have been accepted, it is daunting, any advice would be gratefully accepted.

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    Nicholas John Rengos 10 Feb 2021 at 9:55 am #

    So I’ve been working for Uber for a little over 3 years.
    In that time I have completed approximately 5 thousand trips (preferably airport runs) and usually put in 48 hours a week ie. 8 hrs x 6 days per week – Full time by most working standards and here are the numbers :

    Average daily earnings (pre-Covid) = £100
    (After Uber deducts it’s 25% comm.)

    Less daily Costs:

    Fuel. £20
    Congestion charge. £15
    Vehicle lease & maint. £35
    Insurance. £7
    Airport Parking. £11
    License costs. £2
    Valet costs. £1. (£91)
    ———
    TOTAL NET INCOME. £9

    Over 8 hours = £1.12 / hour

    Remind me what the minimum wage is….?

    My average earnings are £600 per week less £546 that I had to pay out in expenses giving a weekly Income before tax of £54 for 48 hours of mind numbing and soul destroying work.

    As I driver I really believe we are being exploited and are tricked into thinking we are free and independent, the reality is modern slavery with out a doubt.

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