A UK Office of the Tribunals court has ruled (pdf) that Uber drivers have the rights of full time employees in Britain, reports Ars Technica. UK Uber drivers (40,000 currently) will be entitled to earn national minimum wage, holiday and sick pay and other benefits, according to the report. The court ruling said that Uber’s users and drivers did not negotiate fares or other conditions and were operating “strictly on Uber’s terms.”
Uber, which states globally that it is only a technology platform linking users and drivers, said that it would appeal the ruling because “tens of thousands of people” chose Uber since they wanted to be self-employed and their own bosses. Uber also added that the ruling only affected the 2 drivers who filed the case. The report cites Jo Bertram, Uber’s UK general manager, as saying, “The overwhelming majority of drivers who use the Uber app want to keep the freedom and flexibility of being able to drive when and where they want.”
The case was filed by two drivers Y Aslam and J Farrar with support from GMB, a general trade union in the UK, whose over 630,000 members work across different industries, against Uber. GMB said that this ruling did not have any effect on driver flexibility, that it guaranteed drivers basic employment rights and that Uber’s decision to appeal the ruling was to protect its profits and not protect its drivers. The drivers said that Uber had 30,000 drivers in London and 10,000 more in Britain, as well as 2 million registered users in London.
What it means: The UK ruling will very likely set a precedent for millions of Uber drivers across the globe who may also start asking for benefits, given that they do work over a select number of hours in a day and have expenses like car maintenance and fuel costs going out of their pockets. Even if Uber has subsidised the cost of travelling for passengers, there’s real world costs which are not accounted for. (Read this for why Uber’s drivers prefer taking longer trips but it doesn’t actually benefit them.) Uber’s fight to call its drivers ‘independent contractors’ is its way of saving additional costs associated with employment. However, after a point of time, drivers will still want to have benefits given that they regularly login into the Uber app to make money.
Uber’s class action lawsuit in California and the US
In June 2015, the California Labor Commission said that drivers working for technology platforms like Uber were essentially employees of the company, and not independent contractors. In a separate case following a couple of months, a federal judge in the US ruled that all Uber drivers in California could bring a class action suit against Uber, claiming that Uber treated its drivers like employees without providing them employee benefits. In April this year, Uber coughed up a $100 million to settle the class action lawsuit but retained the right to call its drivers ‘independent contractors.’ In August, Uber’s attempt to settle a class action lawsuit with drivers who claimed employee status and expenses was rejected by a US court.
Uber in India
Meanwhile, in India, Uber has been proposing (and even driving petitions) that the various state governments in the country adopt a more progressive and business friendly regulation for online cab aggregators, even asking for deregulation of the industry. Last month, the company launched operations in Lucknow, its 29th city in the country.