Uber is embroiled in a legal challenge which has been described as “the case of the year in UK employment law” as drivers call for workers’ rights and demand to be recognised as employees.
The tribunal hearing brought against the ride-hailing company, which recently celebrated its 2 billion ride milestone, by a group of its drivers is of a similar nature to a string of US lawsuits in that it argues drivers are not technically self-employed and should be entitled to a range of employee benefits.
The case, which begins today (20 July) and has been launched by 19 drivers, will specifically target Uber’s assertion that it is a technology company and that it does not provide a transport service to customers, it just puts them in touch with drivers.
Annie Powell, a solicitor at law firm Leigh Day who will represent the drivers, said the hearing would attempt to undermine Uber’s claim. The argument being put forward centres on the fact that drivers are subject to ratings and are not told where customers needed to be dropped off; therefore they are not operating as self-employed businesses as Uber claims.
“We are arguing that they are workers ... Workers have fewer rights than employees, but are entitled to the national minimum wage, holiday pay, the right not to be discriminated against and the right not to have deductions made from their salary,” said Powell.
Powell highlighted the significance of the case saying that there was a “creeping erosion of employment rights as companies misclassify their workers as self-employed” and suggested that if the current case was successful other businesses might face similar claims.
Jo Bertram, the regional general manager for Uber UK, said: “The main reason people choose to partner with Uber is so they can become their own boss, pick their own hours and work completely flexibly. Many partner-drivers have left other lines of work and chosen to partner with Uber for this very reason.”
The ongoing O'Connor v. Uber class action lawsuit case in the US is due to conclude later this month and could have far reaching consequences for the future of on-demand businesses and how they treat their workers.