Ruling due on Uber drivers’ ‘worker’ status in landmark gig economy case

Uber drivers stage a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Uber is set to find out whether its appeal against a landmark “gig economy” ruling that its drivers are “workers” has been successful.

The ride-hailing firm is attempting to overturn employment tribunal findings which could pave the way for tens of thousands of its drivers in the UK to receive the national minimum wage and paid holiday.

At the Court of Appeal in London on Wednesday afternoon, senior judges will give their judgment on whether Uber drivers are “workers” or are “self-employed”, as the company contends.

In November 2017, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) dismissed Uber’s appeal against an earlier tribunal ruling that former drivers Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar were “workers” at the time they were operating for Uber.

But, at a hearing in October, the company’s barrister Dinah Rose QC said the finding that Uber drivers were workers ignored the fact that its relationship with drivers was “typical of the private hire industry”.

Uber was not “unusual” because of the relationship between it and its drivers, “but because the Uber app enables it to operate on a much larger scale than traditional minicab companies”, she argued.

The initial employment tribunal found Uber’s agreements with drivers contained “fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology”, and that the contracts “did not correspond with the practical reality”.

However, Ms Rose said that the contracts “reflected the true relationship and terms of the agreements between the parties”.

She added that both tribunals had “erred in law” in concluding that the pair were workers, submitting that they had “wrongly disregarded the written contracts in which the parties’ agreements were recorded”.

Jason Galbraith-Marten QC, for Mr Aslam and Mr Farrar, said there was “no express agreement” by which the claimants appointed Uber “to act as their agent and setting out the nature and extent of that agency”.

He said that the tribunals’ task was therefore to “determine the true nature of the (implied) agreement” between drivers and Uber.

Mr Galbraith-Marten said the tribunals were “entitled to ask whether the claimants are genuinely in business on their own account” or whether they were “providing their services” to Uber.

He added that, if Uber was not acting as the drivers’ agent, “the purported driver-passenger contract is indeed a fiction”.

Before the October hearing, hundreds of “precarious workers” attended a demonstration organised by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which represents Mr Aslam and Mr Farrar.

IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee described the demonstration as “the articulation of the legitimate rage of the precarious workers and the exploited workers of the UK”.