The judgement from the European Court of Justice that Uber is in the transportation may strike you as completely unremarkable but it is important, if not perhaps as significant as some are suggesting.
Uber has spent and large amount of time and energy arguing that it is a digital platform that connects taxi drivers and passengers, not a taxi company.
Uber positions itself as such, partly because it wishes to be seen as innovative, revolutionary and of the times, and partly because there is a enormous financial advantage to being an “agent” (or middle-man) rather than a provider of services.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain and GMB unions have long argued that Uber is an employer not an agent and should be giving their drivers - who Uber currently argue are self-employed - holiday pay, sick pay, pension contributions and the guarantee of the minimum wage.
The unions are in the process of taking legal action against Uber. A employment tribunal last October found in the unions' favour. Uber lost an appeal recently and is in the process of taking its case to the High Court. Wednesday’s ECJ judgement is helpful to the unions’ cause, although my legal sources tell me it it probably doesn’t kill Uber’s argument that it is an agent.
HMRC will also be looking at the ECJ judgement closely; the taxman has repeatedly - and unsuccessfully - challenged Uber’s “agent” status with a view to pursue Uber for millions of pounds of unpaid VAT.
As Uber itself points out, the ECJ judgement primarily relates to the company’s activities in Barcelona where Uber was ordered to comply with local taxi regulations. The company insists the ruling will not change things in most EU countries.
In the UK Uber is already regulated like a taxi company. You will recall that in September Uber was told by Transport for London that it would not be issued with a new private hire licence as it was “not fit and proper” to hold one. Uber is allowed to continue operating while it appeals that decision. A hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court is likely to take place next May or June.
The judgement is humiliating for Uber in the sense it definitely establishes it as a cab company rather than a “computer services” business. Uber’s marketing hype has been unceremoniously punctured.
But it’s not clear whether the judgement will significantly affect the legion of court cases that Uber is fighting here and abroad.