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The case of the year in employment law?

In what is being described as “the case of the year in UK employment law” online taxi company Uber is facing a legal challenge from its drivers who are stating they should be recognised officially as workers at the company and not self-employed.

For those of you that don’t know, Uber is essentially an app which connects drivers with passengers directly, instead of through a centralised booking service or just hailing a car in the street. The app is used by up to 30,000 people in the London area. For riders, Uber is a convenient, inexpensive and safe taxi service. However, if you are a driver for Uber, your opinion of the app may not be as positive.

The case, which began this month, underlines the growth of the “gig-economy”, where companies use self-employed workers rather than keeping people on their books. This means that these drivers are not entitled to the national living wage, pension contributions, or holiday or sick pay. Although this agreement is perfectly legal, the Uber drivers feel that this is no longer the case and they are not in fact self-employed. Most drivers chose to drive for Uber to become their own boss, pick their own hours and work completely flexibly. However, that did not mean they were signing up to hand over their employment rights. The case against Uber is being taken by 19 drivers.

It has been stated that the case hinged on two things: the nature of Uber’s business and the control it had over drivers. A solicitor representing the drivers has stated: “Uber is arguing that it is a technology company and that it does not provide a transport service to customers, it just puts them in touch with drivers”.

The case has been arranged to disprove this statement. Because the drivers were subject to ratings and were not told where customers needed to be dropped off they were not operating as self-employed businesses. The Uber drivers are arguing that they are being discriminated against, yes they are workers and they accept that workers have fewer rights than employees, but they are entitled to the national minimum wage and holiday pay, they argue.

While the hearings are measuring individual cases against existing law, if the Uber drivers are successful, this may mean that the rules around employment status may have to be reconsidered.


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