Historic win: Trade unions celebrate UK top court’s ruling on Uber drivers

The UK Supreme Court upheld multiple lower court rulings that held that Uber drivers are workers and not “self-employed” as the ride-hailing corporate argued

February 19, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
A 2017 demonstration by GMB Union members, when drivers won against Uber’s appeal at the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Photo: GMB Union/Twitter

On Friday, February 19, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled against Uber’s appeals against the recognition of its drivers as employees. The ruling upheld multiple lower court judgements since 2016 that favored a group of 20 drivers in their struggle to be recognized as employees instead of the “self-employed” tag that Uber favored.

In the judgement, the court observed that when somebody books a ride on Uber “it is Uber that sets the fare and drivers are not permitted to charge more than the fare permitted by the app. It is therefore Uber that dictates how much the driver is paid and the work they do.”

Yaseen Aslam, James Farrar and Robert Dawson, against whom Uber has been fighting a prolonged legal suit, celebrated the ruling as a big victory. Aslam told the press that he was overjoyed by the ruling and that it will “bring relief to so many workers in the gig economy who so desperately need it.”

Aslam also pointed out the British government’s reluctance to stand by the workers. “During the six years of these proceedings, we have watched the government commission and then shelve a review of the gig economy yet do nothing to help us. I hope in future the government will choose to carry out its duty to enforce the law and protect the most vulnerable from exploitation,” he added.

The battle had three forums consistently ruling in favor of the drivers. The first ruling was by the Central London Employment Tribunal in 2016, followed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2017 and the Court of Appeal in London. Trade unions have expressed satisfaction at the current ruling, even though it was delayed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been a grueling four-year legal battle for our members – but it’s ended in a historic win. Uber must now stop wasting time and money pursuing lost legal causes and do what’s right by the drivers who prop up its empire,” said Mick Rix, national officer of the GMB Union, which has been representing and aiding the drivers in their struggle all these years.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain’s (IWGB) raid-hail drivers’ branch, United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD), which has also been fighting for claims of holiday pay by Uber workers in the UK, also welcomed the ruling in a tweet saying that “this decision is very significant news for all private hire drivers in the UK.”

The implication of the ruling will have wide-ranging effects on the burgeoning “gig economy” in the UK, especially for other ride hailing platforms like Ola, Lyft and Bolt, entitling workers employed in the sector to minimum wages and other labor protections.

Uber will now be expected to compensate the drivers as per the existing labor codes, for which workers can now approach an employment tribunal. “GMB will now consult with our Uber driver members over their forthcoming compensation claim,” added Rix.

The ruling is also expected to have an effect on another ongoing lawsuit at the Court of Appeal in London by delivery workers of Deliveroo demanding collective bargaining rights.