The “case of the year for UK employment law” began yesterday in the Employment Tribunal. This is a case being brought by the GMB Union on behalf of 19 Uber drivers and it will determine whether the drivers are genuinely self-employed or whether they have “worker” status.
The reason why the self-employed/worker distinction is so important is because, although workers have less rights than employees, they are entitled to the national minimum wage and to holiday pay and they are also protected against discrimination. These rights are not afforded to the genuinely self-employed.
The case hinges on two things: the nature of Uber’s business and the control it has over its drivers. Uber’s position is that it is simply a technology company, it does not provide a transport service but just acts as the electronic conduit between customers and drivers. Uber says it has no control over its drivers; they can choose whether they work, where they work and how long they work. In contrast the drivers say they are controlled as they are subject to ratings, they have to follow customer instructions and that Uber does not merely facilitate a transaction between the customer and the driver, but is involved in every aspect of the process.
The case may have far reaching consequences into other industries, and there are four cases against courier companies scheduled to be heard later this year. It also highlights the evolution of employment law that is increasingly expanding the category of “worker” to embrace a changing workforce.
Uber has already lost a case on this point in California in 2015 and is in the process of settling a $90 million plus class action. Domestic law is clearly different, but the case will remain of critical importance to all those who engage “self-employed” staff.
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