Gig economy workers strike as Uber’s employment status case hits the Court of Appeal

gig economy employment status strikes

Individuals who work within the gig economy are undertaking a two-day march on Tuesday 30 and Wednesday 31 October 2018, to align with transportation organisation Uber contesting the result of its employment status case at the Court of Appeal.

In October 2016, the Employment Tribunal (ET) ruled in the case of Aslam and Farrar v Uber that the drivers concerned should be classified as workers rather than independent contractors. This  entitles them to receive workers’ rights, such as the national minimum wage and holiday pay. This decision was upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in November 2017.

A spokesperson at Uber said: “Almost all taxi and private hire drivers have been self-employed for decades, long before our app existed. A recent Oxford University study found that drivers make more than the London living wage and want to keep the freedom to choose if, when and where they drive. If drivers were classed as workers they would inevitably lose some of the freedom and flexibility that comes with being their own boss.

“We believe the [EAT] last year fundamentally misunderstood how we operate. For example, they relied on the assertion that drivers are required to take 80% of trips sent to them when logged into the app, which has never been the case in the UK.

“Over the last two years we’ve made many changes to give drivers even more control over how they use the app, alongside more security through sickness, maternity and paternity protections. We’ll keep listening to drivers and introduce further improvements.”

Uber has now taken the case to the Court of Appeal; it is being heard on Tuesday 30 and Wednesday 31 October 2018. The case will deal with the initial 25 claims from Uber drivers, but law firm Leigh Day states that it now represents 82 drivers, who are members of the GMB trade union, in the action against Uber.

Nigel Mackay, partner at Leigh Day, said: “The employment tribunal made clear and well-reasoned findings, backed up by the evidence produced at the tribunal, including Uber’s own description of itself in publicity material as ‘a transportation network’ and ‘everyone’s private driver’.

“It is very disappointing that Uber refuses to accept the employment tribunal’s judgement and instead continues to deny the GMB members that we represent their fundamental workers’ rights, including to be paid at least the national minimum wage and to receive paid time off. These are not unreasonable demands.

“The appeal is of great significance not only to Uber drivers but also to millions of other workers in the gig economy and we hope that this can now bring this matter to a conclusion for the benefit of all workers.”

Sue Harris, legal director at GMB, added: “While the [organisation is] wasting money losing appeal after appeal, their drivers are up to £18,000 out of pocket for the last two years alone. That’s thousands of drivers struggling to pay their rent, or feed their families. It’s time Uber admits defeat and pays up.

“The [organisation] needs to stop wasting money dragging its lost cause through the courts. Instead, Uber should do the decent thing and give drivers the rights to which those courts have already said they are legally entitled.”

Paul Jennings, partner at Bates Wells and part of the legal team representing Uber drivers who are members of the IWGB trade union, said: “Uber has acquired a dominant position within the market incredibly quickly. It has a fleet of over 40,000 drivers in London alone. A key issue in this case is whether Uber has mischaracterised the employment status of its fleet and in so doing failed to observe fundamental employment rights. The financial implications of this judgement could be very significant.”

To align with the hearing, trade union The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has organised a two-day march, supported by fellow unions Momentum, the Communications Workers Union, War on Want, Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union and United Voices of the World to name a few.

Those taking part in the march include drivers who work for Uber, couriers who work for Deliveroo, fast food workers and outsourced cleaners.

The march started at the Transport for London headquarters and was designed to pass the Royal Courts of Justice, where Uber’s case is being heard. The march will also attend the University of London, where outsourced workers are currently striking to end outsourcing, and to NHS contractor The Doctor’s Laboratory (TDL), where couriers are campaigning for fair pay following pay cuts.

TDL couriers are taking industrial action to reverse pay cuts implemented in 2015 and 2017, to have TDL cover their costs and to achieve a pay increase.

According to the IWGB, TDL stated in June 2017 that it wrongly classified its couriers as independent contractors. The trade union undertook a collective bargaining unit, however negotiations failed to secure a deal. IWGB sought to reverse what it believed was a 30% pay cut in 2015, equating to a 15% reduction in take-home pay.

The IWGB has further brought a holiday pay claim on behalf of 50 TDL couriers, who argue that they have been denied holiday time since 1999.

Alex Marshall, a courier at TDL and chair of the couriers and logistics branch at IWGB, said: “TDL is happy to send millions to its investors and give its [chief executive officer] an inflation-busting pay rise, but continues to neglect the couriers that risk their lives every day to keep the business running. We demand more respect, which starts with TDL reversing the cuts and providing a modest pay increase.”

Jason Moyer Lee, general secretary at the IWGB, added: “Precarious workers are getting hammered in this country. The protest is the articulation of the legitimate grievance of those who are being denied the basic rights and dignities at work that we should all be able to take for granted.”

The Court of Appeal decision is expected in the coming weeks.