Joel Muckett 10 Nov 2017 04:57pm

Uber loses employment tribunal appeal

Ride-hailing company Uber has lost its appeal to overturn a ruling that will grant its drivers rights including holiday pay, sick pay and the national minimum wage

Last October, Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam won an employment tribunal case where, backed by professional drivers union GMB, they argued that they should be classified as workers rather than self-employed.

Challenging the ruling from the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), Uber said the decision “deprived” drivers of the “personal flexibility” they valued. According to the company, four in five drivers wanted to remain as independent contractors.

Judge Eady QC upheld the tribunal’s original decision, saying it was correct in concluding that drivers for Uber were under a “worker contract” if they used the app within London and accepted assignments.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), who also backed Farrar and Aslam, said the ruling showed that firms were depriving workers of their rights.

Aslam, who is also the co-founder of IWGB’s United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) branch, has been campaigning against Uber since 2014.

“I am glad that the judge confirmed what I and thousands of other drivers have known all along: that Uber is not only exploiting drivers, but also acting unlawfully. We will carry on fighting until this exploitation stops and workers’ rights are respected,” he said.

Farrar, who is chair of UPHD branch, added, “Uber cannot go on flouting UK law with impunity and depriving people of their minimum wage rights. We have done everything we can, now it is time for the Mayor of London, Transport for London and the Transport Secretary to step up and use their leverage to defend worker rights rather than turn a blind eye to sweatshop conditions.”

GMB legal director Maria Ludkin said that Uber had to face up to its responsibilities and give its workers the rights to which they were entitled, while Lawyer and partner at Bates Wells Braithwaite, Paul Jennings, who represented the drivers, said the firm was “delighted” with the Appeal Tribunal’s decision, adding that it was “ethically and legally the right outcome”.

“The ruling will have significant implications for approximately 40,000 Uber drivers and, more broadly, individuals engaged across the so-called ‘gig economy’. We anticipate that tens-of-thousands of drivers will now seek to make substantial back-dated claims,” said Jennings.

“Our clients have fought tirelessly to gain the rights that they clearly should have been afforded from the outset.”

Responding to the decision, Uber UK’s acting general manager Tom Elvidge said that taxi and private hire drivers had been self-employed long before the app’s existence, and that drivers chose Uber because they valued the freedom associated with it.

“The tribunal relies on the assertion that drivers are required to take 80% of trips sent to them when logged into the app. As drivers who use Uber know, this has never been the case in the UK,” he said.

“Over the last year we have made a number of changes to our app to give drivers even more control. We’ve also invested in things like access to illness and injury cover and we’ll keep introducing changes to make driving with Uber even better.”

Top ten firm RSM’s partner and head of client legal services Carolyn Brown said it was likely for Uber to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal, but warned that it carried a big risk if unsuccessful.

“With control being a critical factor in the assessment of the taxi drivers’ working status but a key requirement for the service Uber provides, something may have to give,” she said.

Brown added that the company’s exposure to tax and National Insurance Contribution liabilities would be a “pressing concern” if it was unable to overturn the decision.

In September, Transport for London made a decision to not renew Uber’s private hire licence, a decision that the company has since appealed.