Uber has lost the final appeal in a long running UK legal battle over whether its drivers are self-employed or legally-recognized workers with all the attendant rights, Bloomberg reports. The ruling is the conclusion of the company’s five-year legal fight in the country and a major setback for Uber that could affect all gig workers in the UK, regardless of employer.
Today, the UK’s Supreme Court ruled that Uber drivers are, indeed, workers, confirming the decision made by three lower courts. The unanimous decision means that drivers are entitled to a minimum wage, paid holiday, and other legal protections. Judge George Leggatt said Uber drivers working time isn’t limited to time spent driving passengers, but also “includes any period when a driver is logged into the app and ready and willing to accept trips.”
The ruling could have a significant impact on the UK’s estimated 4.7 million gig economy workers, affecting not just tech giants like Uber and food delivery firm Deliveroo, but also less well known companies like couriers CitySprint and plumbing outfit Pimlico Plumbers.
In response to the ruling, Uber’s regional general manager for northern and eastern Europe Jamie Heywood said that the company respect’s the court’s decision, but added that it “focused on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016,” and that the ruling doesn’t reclassify all of its UK drivers as workers.
“Since then we have made some significant changes to our business, guided by drivers every step of the way,” Heywood said. “These include giving even more control over how they earn and providing new protections like free insurance in case of sickness or injury. We are committed to doing more and will now consult with every active driver across the UK to understand the changes they want to see.”
In a blog post, Uber said that the ruling classifies the drivers as “workers” rather than “employees,” which is a legally distinct category. It also says that certain elements of its service which were described in the judgement no longer apply, including penalties for drivers who reject multiple trips.
The original case against Uber was brought in 2016 by two drivers for the company, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam. They argued that Uber controlled nearly all the aspects of their working conditions, including who they could accept for rides and how much they would be paid, meaning the company was acting as their employer.
Uber lost three cases against Farrar and Aslam in 2016, 2017, and 2018. But today’s judgement from the Supreme Court, the UK’s final court of appeal, ends their legal options. The dispute will now return to a specialty tribunal, according to Bloomberg, which will decide how much to award the 25 drivers. Uber also faces another 1,000 similar claims that had been stayed pending today’s ruling.
In a statement, the GMB Union, which helped bring the case against Uber, welcomed the “historic” win. “The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of three previous courts, backing up what GMB has said all along; Uber drivers are workers and entitled to breaks, holiday pay and minimum wage,” Mick Rix, GMB national officer, 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,” Rix said, adding that the union now plans to work towards helping its members claim compensation.