Uber awaits tribunal ruling over drivers' status as workers

Union cases demanding basic employment rights and paid holidays could affect 40,000 cabbies in the UK

An employment tribunal in London will decide whether Uber drivers should be treated as workers with basic employment rights, in a case that could affect tens of thousands of other people working across the gig economy.

The test cases have been brought by the GMB union on behalf of two Uber drivers who argue that the cab-hailing firm is breaching the law by failing to provide them with basic employment rights. GMB says they must be paid the “national living wage”, have paid holidays and the entitlement to rest breaks.

Uber has 40,000 drivers in the UK who connect to people looking for a cab via a smartphone app. The US firm says the drivers are independent contractors who are self-employed and can choose where and when they work.

The GMB general secretary described Uber drivers as “bogusly self-employed” before the tribunal ruling, due at 2pm London time. “It is vitally important for everybody employed across the so-called gig economy,” Justin Bowden said.

“What GMB’s court case has argued is that Uber exercises a very high degree of control over those workers in that it very much tells them what to do, where to go,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“It controls their pay and it’s also able to exercise disciplinary actions over those. That is not consistent with somebody who is self-employed, it is absolutely consistent with somebody who is a worker.”

Bowden rejected the argument that Uber drivers should not be classed as workers because they can choose to switch off the app and not work. He said in reality drivers did not have much choice. “If you fail to pick up a certain number of journeys and you logged off the app for a period of time, you get put in the so-called ‘sin bin’.”

The test cases will determine the claims of 17 other Uber drivers – and could have far-reaching consequences for the UK’s growing army of self-employed individuals.

Maria Ludkin, GMB’s legal director, said: “This case represents the first proper legal review of whether jobs in this part of the so-called gig economy really represent a new paradigm of freedom and self-employment, or in fact are simply a new technology ploy to deny employed workers ordinary employment rights and a national minimum wage.

“In our view, Uber’s business model is underpinned by the shaky foundations of worker exploitation and tax avoidance, both of which end up being underwritten by the ordinary taxpayer.”


Julia Kollewe

The GuardianTramp

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