In the most significant decision to date on gig economy workers, Uber has lost its appeal against an Employment Tribunal's decision that its drivers can be considered 'workers', and therefore benefit from various employment protections. The potential impact of this case on the gig economy as a whole makes it likely that Uber will appeal the decision directly to the Supreme Court. According to Peter Finding of Withers: 'The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the Tribunal's decision that in reality drivers were an integral part of Uber's taxi business, and were subject to a sufficient degree of control by Uber – these were key factors in the finding that the drivers were 'workers' rather than independent contractors running their own businesses.'He added that 'Uber, and other similar businesses, will be prompted to continue to re-evaluate their approaches in order to operate a profitable model without undue levels of risk.'
Trowers & Hamlins employment lawyer Imogen Reseigh, commented: 'The decision in Uber reinforces that the use of apps and technology to facilitate new ways of working cannot be used to avoid honouring workers' rights. This decision was not unexpected following the growing number of cases where tribunals have concluded individuals were workers and not independent contractors. It's unlikely to be the end of the story, however, given other "gig economy" cases will soon reach the higher courts and Uber is likely to appeal.' She added that in the meantime 'there may be pressure on the Government to focus on the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practice's recommendation of creating "dependent contractors" who are eligible for worker's rights.'
Throw in the towel
Commenting on the ruling, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: 'Uber should throw in the towel and accept today's judgement. No company, however big or well connected, is above the law. Uber must play by the rules and stop denying its drivers basic rights at work.This ruling should put gig economy employers on notice. Unions will expose nasty schemes that try and cheat workers out of the minimum wage and holiday pay. Sham self-employment exploits people and scams the taxman. The Uber drivers’ union GMB deserve huge credit for their work on this case.'