Uber Employment Tribunal judgment: Driving the protection of rights?
A recent Employment Tribunal judgment found that two Uber drivers should be regarded as ‘workers’ under the relevant legislation and therefore were entitled to rights such as holiday pay and the minimum wage. This judgment, which included quotes from Shakespeare and Milton, is seen by many as an important step forward for the protection of those individuals working in the ‘gig economy’.
Uber unsuccessfully tried to argue that it was merely a technology platform and that the drivers were therefore self-employed, something which the Tribunal regarded as “faintly ridiculous” and “a pure fiction”. However, contrary to various sources, the Tribunal did not find that the drivers were ‘employees’, but instead placed them into the intermediate class of ‘workers’.
This category was created to extend minimal protections to those who are still dependent on an employer, but perhaps aren’t required to work when asked, or don’t have to be given any minimum amount of work when available. Essentially, the pass-mark is lowered so that individuals who don’t quite qualify as employees might still be protected. They are thus entitled to certain basic rights (such as holiday pay, minimum wage and rest breaks) but not others, such as protection from unfair dismissal and statutory redundancy payments.
In this case, the Tribunal was concerned with whether the drivers were ‘workers’ or self-employed, which is often a difficult distinction. They asked: is the relationship between Uber and its drivers a contract between two independent business undertakings in which the drivers market their services to the world in general, or is it a dependent work relationship in which drivers are recruited to work as an integral part of Uber’s operations?
In this case, the Tribunal concluded that a driver would be a ‘worker’ for Uber when they: (a) have the App switched on; (b) are within the territory in which they are entitled to work; and (c) are willing and able to accept assignments.
A summary of the reasons for the Tribunal’s conclusions can be found here.
The judgment could drive real change in the “gig economy”
Although Uber have already announced their intention to appeal, the decision is not ground-breaking in legal terms and continues the line of case law that courts will look closely at the true agreement between parties in determining employment status. Despite this, the practical reality is that this judgment, especially if upheld by the higher courts, could drive real change in the “gig economy”. Deliveroo, Hermes and others will be watching very closely.
Barristers: Paul Livingston