Specialist Employment Lawyers Comment On Latest Development
Private hire firm Uber has launched an appeal against a landmark employment tribunal ruling which could have an impact on thousands of people working in the so-called 'gig economy'.
Described as the most significant employment case of the year, in July 2016, 19 Uber drivers contested their 'employment' status with the GMB union arguing on their behalf that their employment terms and conditions meant they were not technically self-employed and were in fact ‘workers’.
As a result it was claimed that they should be entitled to a range of benefits that apply to workers including the right to be paid the National Minimum Wage, holiday pay and pension.
The GMB won the high-profile case in October, but the announcement by Uber that they are contesting the decision will ensure the case continues well into 2017.
Maria Ludkin, the GMB's legal director, said: "GMB is very disappointed Uber has decided to lodge this appeal in a bid to deny their workers basic rights.
"The findings in the original tribunal were damning, and continuing this course of action is frivolous. It's a waste of time and money - Uber should hold their hands up and admit they were wrong.
"We hope the court will reject this appeal, and uphold a ruling which was an incredible victory for workers in the gig economy everywhere."
Jo Bertram, Uber’s UK general manager, said: “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.”
Expert Opinion"The disappointment expressed by the GMB here is understandable but Uber were always going to appeal this decision, not least because financially, the implications for its wider UK workforce are significant. If they have to pay holiday and National Minimum Wage costs for their 40,000 UK drivers, their profits will take a hit.
"The tribunal judgment examined the two leading decisions - one involving a caddie working on a golf course who was self-employed and one involving a lap dancer who was also considered to be self-employed. Uber relied on these cases by arguing that it was acting as a 'platform' rather than an employer.
"Uber's argument was undermined by the Tribunal's findings of fact, including the interviewing of drivers by Uber, their control of passengers' key information which is not shared with the driver and the requirement that drivers must accept fares or face a warning and being locked out of the Uber app if too many fares are refused. It is entirely possible, particularly given the amount of money Uber are going to throw at overturning this judgment, for them to raise cogent arguments to support their contention that their drivers are self employed contractors and not workers.
"Although there is a possibility that their appeal will be unsuccessful, the issue of the status of workers engaged in the gig economy is of particular public concern and this case could go all the way to the Supreme Court."
"Even if the appeal is unsuccessful, well advised businesses operating in the gig economy should still be able to engage with individuals on a 'self-employed' basis as the judgment was very fact specific. In addition, the tribunal also expressly highlighted that nothing in its reasoning should be taken as doubting Uber could have devised a business model that did not result in the drivers having worker status."
Alan Lewis - Partner