British Supreme Court says Uber drivers are workers, not contractors

Feb. 19 (UPI) — The British Supreme Court ruled Friday that Uber drivers are effectively employees and not independent contractors, a decision that severely challenges the ride-sharing company’s operations there.

The court ruled that Uber held its drivers to enough controls — such as schedule, pay and performance — that the drivers met the classification to be classified as “workers,” which means they are entitled to things like minimum wages.

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“Taking these factors together, the transportation service performed by drivers and offered to passengers through the Uber app is very tightly defined and controlled by Uber,” the court wrote in its decision.

“In practice, the only way in which they can increase their earnings is by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance.”

“Supreme Court considers that comparisons made by Uber with digital platforms which act as booking agents for hotels and other accommodation and with minicab drivers do not advance its case. The drivers were rightly found to be ‘workers,'” the ruling added.

Uber said Friday’s ruling doesn’t apply to all its drivers in Britain, but rather a small group who were party to the suit.

“We respect the court’s decision which focused on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016. Since then we have made some significant changes to our business, guided by drivers every step of the way. These include giving even more control over how they earn and providing new protections like free insurance in case of sickness or injury,” Uber spokesman Jamie Heywood said in a report by Sky News.

“We are committed to doing more and will now consult with every active driver across the U.K. to understand the changes they want to see.”

Uber has some 45,000 drivers in London and 60,000 throughout Britain, and the high court ruling could have a deep impact on other gig worker companies and workers, which include food delivery service Deliveroo and ride-hailing competitor Addison Lee.

“This has been a grueling four-year legal battle for our members — but it’s ended in a historic win,” Mick Rix, national officer of Britain’s GMB trade union, said in a statement.

“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.”

In the United States, Uber has threatened in the past to pull out of states like California if they’re forced to reclassify their drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.

In 2017, London’s transportation regulator stripped Uber of its license to operate in the city over multiple concerns, an action it repeated in late 2019. A court ruled last September that Uber was fit to operate in London and returned its license.

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