After a recent lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Uber drivers are ‘workers’ as opposed to being self-employed. It is thought that this ruling will dramatically change the landscape of the gig economy. More importantly, the ruling will make a dramatic difference to the rights of the drivers themselves, who will now be entitled to the same basic rights that other employees in more traditional sectors have enjoyed for decades – including rest breaks, paid holidays and an entitlement to receive national minimum wage. The Supreme Court based their decision on the degree of control Uber exercised over drivers. A crucial deciding factor was the fact that Uber drivers are required to connect to an app and during the time they were connected, would be available to pick up customers. Thus, Uber drivers were working for the entirety of the time they were connected to the app, and not just when they were actually providing a service to a specific customer.
The action first began in 2016, when two Uber drivers took Uber to the employment tribunal – culminating in the case being heard by the Supreme Court. Gig economy employers – and future app based platform developers – will have been awaiting the outcome of the case anxiously, no doubt, as this will have major implications for the development of this emerging business model.
Technology platform operators who are concerned with avoiding providing worker’s rights through an alternative business model will now need to find a way to lessen their control over the process in order for their ‘gig’ workers not to be deemed workers within the legislative description which has been further illustrated by this case. The Supreme Court compared Uber with tech platforms which are used to book accommodation – the distinction is that accommodation owners retain a high level of control over their service and the platform owner effectively takes a back seat role; whereas, in this case, Uber retained primary control over the service provided to customers and drivers were subordinate to that.
In practical terms, this ruling should make a real difference to Uber drivers – particularly in areas of the country where the cost of living is higher. Importantly, the case now returns to the employment tribunal where the a level of compensation which the works will receive will be determined.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses mean more individuals than ever will likely look to alternative business structures for ‘employment’ as opposed to traditional business models which have been severely impacted. After much uncertainty for everyone over the past year, hopefully this ruling will go far in increasing support and a providing a sense of security for gig economy workers.
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