Uber drivers have won an employment tribunal case in the UK, making them entitled to holiday pay, paid rest breaks and the National Minimum Wage. The ride-hailing company has long argued that its chauffeurs are self-employed contractors, not employees; the tribunal disagreed, however, setting a major precedent for the company and its relationship with workers. GMB, the union for professional drivers in the UK, initiated the two "test cases" in July. It's described the decision as a "monumental victory" that will impact "over 30,000 drivers" in England and Wales.
"Uber drivers and thousands of others caught in the bogus self-employment trap will now enjoy the same rights as employees," Maria Ludkin, GMB's legal director said. "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."
Uber disagrees with the decision. The company, which now operates in almost every major city, believes it's a technology company that merely connects passengers with self-employed drivers. It's the man in the middle, as far as it's concerned, and shouldn't be treated as a traditional taxi operator. Many disagree with this argument, however, seeing it as an excuse to keep its costs down and avoid offering basic employee rights.
In its written ruling, the tribunal said: "The notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common 'platform' is to our minds faintly ridiculous. In each case, the 'business' consists of a man with a car seeking to make a living by driving it. Ms Bertram (note: Uber's UK general manager) spoke of Uber assisting the drivers to "grow" their businesses, but no driver is in a position to do anything of the kind, unless growing his business simply means spending more hours at the wheel."
Annie Powell, a lawyer for Leigh Day who worked with GMB on the case, said: "This is a ground-breaking decision. It will impact not just on the thousands of Uber drivers working in this country, but on all workers in the so-called gig economy whose employers wrongly classify them as self-employed and deny them the rights to which they are entitled."
Uber says it will appeal the tribunal's "preliminary" decision. "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."