The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has dealt a serious blow to the private transport company Uber this Friday. In a unanimous ruling, six of its magistrates have made it clear that the company’s drivers are not self-employed persons obliged to fulfill service contracts with leonine conditions, but employed workers with the right to benefit from labor legislation. That is, to obtain a minimum wage or paid vacations.
In a complex case, in which the nature of the contractors is diffuse (Uber presented itself as a simple technology provider, with the use of its app), the Supreme Court has decided to avail itself of the basic principles of the law that regulates the rights of workers to solve the puzzle: “The general purpose of the law invoked by the plaintiffs offers no doubts. It is about protecting vulnerable workers from the possibility of being paid too little for the work they perform, being required to work excessive hours, or being subjected to any kind of unfair treatment (such as being retaliated against for Anonymously report their situation) ”, says the ruling.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is the definitive response to the appeal filed by Uber, after having previously lost the case in two labor courts. It was two drivers, identified in the text as Mr. Aslam and Mr. Farrar, who sued the company in 2016. Some thirty workers subsequently joined the legal challenge. By then, it was estimated that Uber was using the services of some 40,000 drivers across the UK, 30,000 of them in London. Today the figures already rise to 60,000 and 40,000 respectively.
Uber argued during their court battle that, as a parent company, it was limited to providing a technology service, using its app. And that the subsidiary company, Uber London, acted simply as an intermediary in the management of reservations between drivers and passengers. The magistrates dismantle the company’s justifications with five compelling reasons. In the first place, it is Uber that establishes the price of the service, without the driver being able to modify it. In addition, the worker’s salary is decided by the company. Second, the terms of the specific contract are set by the company. Third, the decision to reject a client or a specific trip is very relative. Uber penalizes the service of drivers with “penalties” such as disconnecting them for ten minutes or more from the application if they reject a service. Fourth, through customer ratings, Uber reserves the right to dispense with the employee’s services. And finally, the company restricts personal communication between driver and customer as much as possible. That is to say, the company and not the employee which sets almost all the conditions for the provision of work.
”With this ruling, the new collaborative economy will be definitively reordered, and the widespread labor abuses through algorithms and contractual traps will end. Uber drivers have been sold a false dream of flexibility in their work and of entrepreneurial freedom, ”said James Farrar, general secretary of the Drivers and Delivery Workers union through App, and one of the signatories upon hearing the ruling. of the resource.
Although the ruling establishes definitive jurisprudence, the judicial journey of the case has not ended. You must go back to a labor court to establish with clear criteria how many hours the plaintiffs worked for the company or when the workday should be considered to start or end. Uber has already announced that it will continue its legal battle. In a first response to the ruling, the company’s regional director for North and East Europe, Jamie Heywood, has assured: “We respect the court’s decision, which focuses on a small number of drivers who used the app Uber in 2016. Since then we have made relevant changes to our business (…) that include giving drivers more control over their income and new protections such as life insurance or in case of illness or injury ”.
The blow received by the company this Friday has been one of the hardest after the London City Council temporarily seized the license from the company in November 2019. The argument used then by the municipal authorities had to do with the safety of the customers, after several incidents with drivers whose criminal records or driver’s licenses were not sufficiently verified by the company. A London court forced the city to reinstate the license a year later.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.