Uber woes

Love it or hate it, Uber continues to hit the headlines. The revolutionary ride-hailing company has again lost its licence to operate in the Capital, but what impact will this have on the employment rights of its 45,000 drivers?
Alongside its battle with regulator Transport for London (TfL) to operate in the City, Uber is also at the centre of the leading case on employment status within the ‘gig’ economy.

Are individuals in these industries self-employed/contractors, and therefore entitled to no employment law relief? Or are they workers who should be afforded some level of protection? Or are they employees who should receive the full suite of employment rights?

Hollow victory

In December 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that Uber drivers are workers, and therefore entitled to certain rights including 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave each year (pro-rata), a maximum 48-hour average working week, rest breaks, the national minimum wage (and the national living wage) and the protection of whistleblowing legislation.

It seemed a victory for the drivers at the time, but Uber was quick to launch an appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing its drivers are self-employed contractors. A hearing date is yet to be given.

Crucially however, as workers – which the Uber drivers shall remain pending the app’s appeal – the drivers have no rights to claim unfair dismissal, statutory redundancy pay, or statutory notice pay.

Thus, it is only now, following TfL’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence, that the full impact of the employment status case can be appreciated.

Without a licence to operate, Uber’s huge pool of drivers will lose their jobs with Uber not even be obliged to consult on redundancy.

The case highlights the vulnerability of those working in the gig economy, even if granted worker status. Is the trade-off between flexibility and freedom on the one hand and job security on the other, worth it?

Not fit or proper

In an effort to clarify and improve the legal position of gig economy workers, the government published its Good Work Report following the Taylor Review into modern working practices. It made a number of recommendations to improve the rights of such workers, but as yet, the proposals have yet to be adopted.

Uber has announced it will appeal the TfL decision. London is its biggest European market with 3.5m customers, while its shares tumbled 6% off the back of the news.

TfL found that Uber had failed to address a number of issues placing passenger safety at risk, and that the company was ‘not fit and proper at this time’. In particular, it raised concerns over the app’s change to systems that allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their photos to other drivers’ accounts.

The appeal means the company and its drivers will continue to operate in the meantime, and it moves the battle away from the (arguably) politically-driven TfL process, to the impartiality of the courts.

Ironically, the TfL appeal now supersedes the Supreme Court appeal in terms of importance to London Uber drivers: their employment status is suddenly irrelevant in the face of no job at all. But for the wider gig economy, the decision of the Supreme Court is eagerly awaited.

This article is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking or deciding not to take any action.

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