After a long, drawn-out legal battle between Uber and its two former drivers, the UK Supreme Court declared in February 2021 that Uber drivers must be treated as workers rather than self-employed persons. This new decision of the UK Supreme Court means that Uber drivers will be entitled to minimum wage and paid holidays as well.
The legal dispute originates in 2016, when two former Uber drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam took Uber to an employment tribunal arguing that they were the “workers” of Uber. During the employment procedure, Uber stated that its drivers were self-employed “partners” and as a consequence of that, they are not entitled to the basic worker’s rights and Uber was not responsible for paying any minimum wage nor holiday to them. The Employment Tribunal concluded in 2016 that the drivers were in fact the Uber’s workers due to the level of control over them (e.g. setting fares and not informing the drivers on the passenger’s destination until they were picked up).
The UK Supreme Court’s ruling in February was the last possible appeal that finally settled this ongoing legal dispute. According to the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court, “drivers should be considered to be working not only when driving a passenger, but whenever logged in to the app”. As a consequence, on one hand, Uber may decrease the number of its circulating vehicles in a city that resulted in poverty, pollution and congestion, according to James Farrar, ADCU’s (App Drivers & Couriers Union) general secretary. On the other hand, Uber declared that classifying their drivers as workers may generate significant additional expenses in order to cover the costs of the driver’s minimum wage and overtime.
The UK Supreme Court’s decision may not only result in a fundamental change of Uber’s business model, but it will probably have wider consequences for the gig economy where temporary, flexible jobs are commonplace and companies tend to hire independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time employees (some industries that include gig economy jobs are IT, software development, project management or accounting or finance).