Following a recent ruling in California which decided that Uber drivers there are employees and not independent contractors, Uber drivers in the UK are now also reportedly taking the app based mini cab service to court, claiming that they are either employees or workers.
The drivers say that they are being deprived of basic workers’ rights, including rights to the minimum wage along with rights under the working time regulations for rest breaks, paid holiday and rights preventing workers working more than 48 hours on average in a week.
Uber says the drivers are not workers but "partners" who “love being their own boss".
However, a spokesperson on behalf of the drivers said: “Uber not only pays the drivers but it also effectively controls how much passengers are charged and requires drivers to follow particular routes…We believe that it’s clear from the way Uber operates that it owes the same responsibilities towards its drivers as any other employer does to its workers."
Whether or not the contract refers to them as workers a Tribunal will look at all the facts to decide if the drivers are treated as workers or employees in practice. This will include looking at a number of factors including, for example, how much control the company has over the drivers to direct what they do and how they do it, if there is an obligation to work and provide work and how far the drivers are integrated into the company.
New, app based, on demand companies, such as Uber, base their business model on categorising their staff as independent contractors rather than employees. If the Employment Tribunal reaches a similar ruling to that made in the Californian courts, it is likely to leave Uber facing substantial compensation for unpaid benefits and wages and significant costs in having to provide these to its drivers going forward.
Others will also be watching this case with interest to see how the courts apply the traditional employee status tests to these new emerging industries.