- Former Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam took Uber to court last October over their employment status and won. They wanted to be classed as workers that are entitled to rights such as holiday pay and minimum wage. Uber believes that its drivers are “self-employed” and appealed against the ruling on Wednesday. The driver’s legal team fought back on Thursday. The San Francisco-headquartered taxi giant has brought in barrister Dinah Rose QC to fight its corner while Jason Galbraith-Marten QC is representing the drivers. The outcome of the appeal could have major implications on the wider gig economy in the UK.
- Business Insider UK/Sam Shead
Uber is wrong to try and classify itself as a driver’s “agent” in the UK, a lawyer representing Uber drivers told a court on Thursday.
Uber is currently appealing a court ruling passed last October that found British Uber drivers are entitled to minimum wage and holiday pay. The San Francisco company’s key argument is that it acts as a driver’s agent (like many traditional taxi companies) and not their employer.
But Jason Galbraith-Marten QC, a former labour and employment lawyer of the year winner, told Judge Jennifer Eady QC in court on Thursday that “there is no document in which drivers appoint Uber as their agent,” before going on to state a number of other reasons that illustrate why Uber is not an agent.
In a bid to further dismiss Uber’s claim that its drivers are not workers, Galbraith-Marten QC pointed to the fact that drivers can “breach” their contract with Uber by cancelling trips.
He continued to pick apart Uber’s appeal point-by-point and was on his feet for around two and a half hours before the courtroom broke for lunch.
The appeal comes after a judge ruled that Uber drivers are entitled to worker benefits
Former Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam took Uber to court last October over their employment status and won.
They specifically argued that they should be classed as workers, who are entitled to paid annual leave, minimum wage, and breaks.
Farrar told Business Insider on Thursday lunchtime that he thinks Uber will struggle to turnover the appeal, despite spending what he expects is a sizeable sum on a top lawyer.
He also criticised Uber for aspiring to be like other minicab companies. “The entire minicab industry has been a festering source of labour abuse for decades. Now Uber aspires to be just like the worst.” Interestingly, Dominick Moxon-Tritsch, Uber’s former head of public policy, described the minicab model as “brutally exploitative” in 2014.
Speaking at a protest held outside the court before the hearing on Wednesday, Aslam said:
“In the case of Uber, drivers are stuck into working due to desperation, either by costly finance, insurance, licence fees, and the list goes on… People talk about slave labour and exploitation in third world countries, but hey, we have sweated labour and workers being exploited on the street of London.
“All Uber want to do is flood the market with drivers, with no responsibility nor liability – keep reducing fares to attract more customers, while drivers carry all the risks.
“These drivers are hard-working people and in their job face many struggles. Drivers sleeping in their cars, drivers working 80/90 hours a week and still not making the minimum wage. Not seeing their family, the stress and pressure of the job – these very same drivers have been pushed into hardship by Uber.”
The Californian transport company has always maintained that drivers who use its platform are independent contractors. It frames itself as a technology platform, connecting riders and drivers and taking a fee in the process.
- Oli Scarff/Getty Images
The employment tribunal appeal comes a week after transport regulator Transport for London (TfL) announced that it would not be renewing Uber’s operating licence in London at the end of the month.
Uber hasn’t made any changes to the way it classifies its drivers since the October ruling and now it’s appealing Judge Anthony Snelson’s decision at a two-day employment tribunal, being held just off Fleet Street in Fleet Bank House.
Snelson argued that it was “faintly ridiculous” for Uber to suggest the drivers were “a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform'”.
Dinah Rose QC, Uber’s lawyer, argued in court on Wednesday that Snelson had shown a “basic misunderstanding” of how many minicab companies operate as an “agency” that links drivers and passengers. “This line of reasoning would have the effect that every single minicab company operating the agency model is … a sham,” she said.
Uber’s platform is used by millions of people across the UK
There are approximately 40,000 Uber drivers in the UK and 3.5 million passengers.
“This means a private hire vehicle can pick you up in minutes. Gone are the days of waiting,” said Rose QC. “It is a model that is disruptive of traditional business, such as black cabs. This is the reason why it is politically controversial. But it has nothing to do with anything new, exploitative, or disreputable between that private hire company and the drivers. Only Uber’s effect of tech and scale. It’s that scale which caused the judge to balk. We say that is irrelevant.”
If Uber fails to turn over the October court ruling then it will likely have to schedule UK drivers in for shifts, which would suit some drivers but not all.
- Guy Benton
A poll conducted by polling firm ORB and touted by Uber on Tuesday found that 80% of Uber drivers would rather be an independent contractor than a worker or employee. “When asked whether they’d prefer to remain self-employed or become a worker or employee of Uber, the overwhelming majority want to continue being their own boss,” said ORB International managing director Johnny Heald in a statement.
The future of the gig economy hangs in the balance
Judge Eady QC’s ruling could have a major impact on the operating costs of Uber and the wider gig economy with delivery firms such as Deliveroo and Jinn, which rely on a network of self-employed couriers, also being impacted.
There are over 1 million people working in the gig economy in the UK, according to recent government estimates. Gig economy advocates argue it provides convenience for users and flexibility, but detractors argue that it strips away employment rights. Galbraith-Marten QC said that the rise of casual work associated with the gig economy does not of itself defeat “worker” status.
Judge Eady QC said she will reserve her decision for a later date. If Judge Eady QC rules in the driver’s favour then Uber will be able to appeal again to the Court of Appeal and possibly to the Supreme Court. The process could last several years, according to The Financial Times.
“In recent years employers in the so-called ‘gig economy’ have been allowed to run wild on a rampage of exploitation,” said IWGB general secretary Dr Jason Moyer-Lee in a statement earlier this year. “These low paid workers have been fighting back both on the streets and in the courts, and winning.”