“Huge Impact”: Employment experts evaluate the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling against Uber
A Supreme Court ruling, which may have profound implications for the future of the gig economy, found that Uber drivers are workers who have the right to full employment.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday (February 19) that Uber drivers are full-time workers under the Employment Rights Act of 1996 and must therefore receive the national minimum wage, annual vacation entitlements and other legal protections for workers.
Uber had argued that its Netherlands-based branch, Uber BV, which owns the technology behind the app, was using its subsidiary in Uber London as a booking agent for drivers – whom it claimed were self-employed. The court strongly dismissed this argument, ruling instead that Uber London is contracting passengers and then instructing drivers to make bookings.
Bates Wells partner Paul Jennings led the effort to advise the original applicants, former Uber drivers Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, and hired Jason Galbraith-Marten QC and Sheryn Omeri of Cloisters. Leigel Day partner Nigel Mackay represented ex-Uber colleague Robert Dawson and taught Oliver Segal QC and Melanie Tether from Old Square Chambers. Uber was advised by DLA Piper, who briefed Dinah Rose QC and Fraser Campbell of Blackstone Chambers.
Constantine Law’s partner Alan Lewis commented on the case, estimating the ruling would cost Uber around £ 100 million and “will have a huge impact on the rights of more than five million UK gig economy workers”.
He asked, ‘Who controls what is going on? Who takes the financial risk? Who will supply the equipment needed to perform the tasks? Is there an unrestricted right for the individual to appoint a substitute to carry out the work? ‘
Katie Maguire, Employment Partner at Devonshires, also argued that the decision would have “huge implications”. She said: “It will help improve the lives of around five million people working in the UK gig economy by giving them workers rights.”
Paul McGrath, employment partner at McDermott Will & Emery, however, said more cautiously: “It is important to note that the Supreme Court decision does not automatically mean that everyone involved in the gig economy is a worker. Future cases will continue to be decided on their own individual facts. ‘
When asked by Legal Business how far-reaching the ruling would be, Jennings of Bates Wells said, “The truth is somewhere in between. The first impact will be on the drivers and Uber. What we see after the ruling is a fundamental wave of drivers coming together and filing class actions, and these are well founded. The ruling addresses the purpose of labor laws, but it also goes into the fundamentals of Uber’s business model. ‘
An Uber statement released shortly after the ruling alleged that the ruling “focused on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016”. Jennings, however, called this “damage control”.
He added, “Every gig employer has a different setup, but the decision goes far. The details of the contracts are no longer the endpoint, it is just about the relationship that exists with the employer. Big gig employers will find this has an impact. ‘
Another key aspect of the ruling was that from signing in to the Uber app until signing out, drivers are considered employees. Jennings said: ‘That particular element of the judgment was worse than Uber expected. So far, the drivers have logged into the app and then remain inactive in a large pool before accepting jobs. Uber now has to pay for this time. ‘