In 2016, Uber was taken to the Employment Tribunal (ET) over a claim that its drivers should be considered workers and not self-employed contractors. The lead Claimant, Mr Aslam, argued alongside other drivers that they should be entitled to the employment rights afforded to workers e.g. national minimum wage and paid annual leave.
Uber argued against this and claimed that the drivers were independent contractors and they did not owe them any workers rights.
However, the ET found against Uber, concluding that the drivers were in fact workers and entitled to the applicable workers’ rights, providing the following conditions were met:
- The driver had the Uber app turned on;
- They were willing and ready to accept fares; and
- They were within the territory in which they were authorised to drive.
Uber appealed against the decision claiming that the ET should have taken the view that Uber are no more than a technology platform facilitating the provision of taxi services and that the contract was between the drivers and their customers, as opposed to the drivers and Uber. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) dismissed the appeal and held that the ET was entitled to find that the reality of the relationship between Uber and its drivers was akin to that of an employer and its workers, i.e. Uber relies on a group of workers to provide a private hire vehicle service.
The EAT conceded that, just because the written contracts between the parties stated that the drivers were self-employed, if the reality of the relationship does not reflect this position then the ET is entitled to disregard such a label.
This decision, although specific to Uber, means it is likely that other gig economy businesses may soon be facing claims that their ‘self-employed contractors' are in fact workers within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996.