Uber loses appeal in United Kingdom employment rights case

Frederick Owens
November 13, 2017

The Employment Appeals Tribunal ruled on Friday that Uber's drivers qualify as workers, upholding a decision against the ride-hailing app made a year ago.

"If the reality is that Uber's market share in London is such that its drivers are, in practical terms, unable to hold themselves out as available to any other [company], then, as a matter of fact, they are working at Uber's disposal as part of the pool of drivers it requires to be available within the territory at any one time", Judge Judge Jennifer Eady QC wrote in her ruling.

The ride-hailing app went to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) to challenge an earlier ruling by the Employment Tribunal which said Uber drivers are entitled to basic workers' rights.

Farrar, himself a union representative for Uber drivers, argued that, after commission and operating costs, drivers were earning only £5.68 ($7.46) per hour, 15 percent below the United Kingdom minimum wage.

Uber claimed 80% of its drivers would rather be classed as self employed. "This is clearly not the case with people who drive through Uber - they choose when and how long they work for by logging on or off the app", said Chris Bryce, chief executive of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed.

More broadly, the latest decision in Uber employment case shines a spotlight on the so-called "gig economy", where firms offer low cost and convenience at the expense of basic employee security for their workers.

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BuzzFeed News understands Uber will proceed with further appeals, with the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court two possible stages in the appeal process.

Commenting on the landmark ruling, Jon Heuvel, employment partner at Shakespeare Martineau, said few should be surprised by the development because Uber had it coming.

The case could be joined with Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith, another employment status case due to be heard in the Supreme Court in 2018.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'Uber should throw in the towel and accept today's judgment.

"The growing number of employment tribunals linked to the gig economy shows there is a fundamental lack of clarity over what it means to work on your own behalf". Unions will expose nasty schemes that try and cheat workers out of the minimum wage and holiday pay.

Experts say the ruling could have a substantial impact on Uber's British business model, as well as those for similar companies who rely heavily on contractors.

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