UKSC ruled: Uber Drivers are Workers, not Self-employed Contractors. A Step towards full-fledged Employee Rights?
What just happened?
The United Kingdom Supreme Court ruled on 19th February 2021 that uber drivers are not independent contractors, but instead qualify as workers and their contracts should be treated as workers’ contracts. This makes such drivers qualify for the national minimum wage, paid annual leave and other workers’ rights.The ruling was given by the Supreme Court upholding the decisions by the Employment Tribunal in 2016, the Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2017 and the Court of Appeal in 2018.
What does this mean?
The ruling by the Supreme Court serves as a respite for the claimants who waited over four years to get recognized as workers and claim the rights associated with it, after having worked under the subordination and dependency of Uber for years.It was interesting and amusing to see the defence that Uber took saying that it was an intermediary and a mere platform to let the drivers and passengers meet. It is true that Uber drivers had the autonomy to choose their time and area of work. They were not prohibited from providing their services to any other organization, like Ola, that was a direct competitor of Uber.However, these autonomies are not sufficient to designate Uber drivers as independent contractors.
Analyzing the terms of the contract between Uber and its drivers, the dominance and control of the former over the latter is evident. As the six justices unanimously and rightly reasoned that Uber fixed the remuneration paid to the drivers and deducted its own ‘service fares’, with the drivers having no say in it. The contractual terms, between Uber and the drivers, were singlehandedly dictated by Uber, and the drivers had no choice but to accept the standard form of agreement in this ‘take it or leave it’ set up.Additionally, if the driver’s rate of acceptance (and cancellation) of trip requests fell below a level set by Uber London or if the ratings of Uber drivers fell short of the standard decided by Uber’s internal tool for managing performance, the drivers would be ‘penalized’ by receiving warning messages, consequently resulting in shut out from logging back on the app for ten minutes or permanent termination from services respectively.
In order to justify its ruling, the Court relied on the Autoclenz caseand interpreted that general purpose of legislations like National Minimum Wage Act, 1998, Working Time Regulations, 1998 et al is to protect vulnerable workers from being paid too little for the work they do and from other forms of unfair treatment.The Court also quoted the judgement in the Byrne Bros casewhich interpreted that limb (b) workers under the Employment Rights Act 1996 also include such individuals that need the same kind of protection as employees, thereby justifying why Uber drivers are workers and not independent contractors.
Meanwhile, post the judgement Uber, maintaining its ‘I don’t care’ attitude, emphasised that the worker classification that flowed from the judgement only applied to such Uber drivers who had brought the claim. It added that for other active Uber drivers in U.K, it would launch a nationwide consultation to seek views on the working conditions instead of immediately paying their holiday pay or minimum wage et cetera.
In order to really benefit the drivers, one can hope that Uber understands that the UKSC ruling was not merely for the small number of drivers that filed the case in 2016, but rather was based on principles that will apply to every Uber driver.
This judgement should also induce the need in other minicab firms and delivery groups, that have flourished in these lockdowns, to adapt to the implications of this ruling. Hopefully, this ruling would also act as a nudge to the government to come up with a legislation optimally regulating the gig economy and zero-hours jobs markets.
 Uber and ors. v Aslam and ors.  UKSC 5
 Mary Ann-Russon, ‘Uber drivers are workers not self-employed, Supreme Court rules’ BBC News (21 February 2021) < https://www.bbc.com/news/business-56123668> accessed 22 February 2021
 Natasha Lomas, ‘Uber loses gig workers rights challenge in UK Supreme Court’ Tech Crunch (19 February 2021) < https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/19/uber-loses-gig-workers-rights-challenge-in-uk-supreme-court/> accessed 22 February 2021
 Uber (n1)
 The Editorial, ‘The Guardian view on the Uber drivers ruling: a challenge to government’ The Guardian (19 February 2021) < https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/19/the-guardian-view-on-the-uber-drivers-ruling-a-challenge-to-government> accessed 22 February 2021
 Uber (n1)
 Autoclenz Ltd v Belcher  UKSC 41
 Uber (n1)
 Byrne Bros (Formwork) Ltd v Baird  ICR 667
 Natasha (n4)
 Editorial (n8)