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Uber drivers win ‘historic’ gig-economy ruling

Supreme Court confirms company's drivers are workers, not self-employed contractors

TENS OF THOUSANDS of Uber private-hire drivers are in line for substantial compensation after the Supreme Court finally confirmed they are workers, not self-employed contractors.

Today’s unanimous decision by six judges — the fourth ruling against Uber in as many years — means the app’s drivers are entitled to holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and breaks.

But it also has major implications for workers across the gig economy who have been forced to accept bogus self-employed status.

Hailing the “historic” win, the GMB union’s Mick Rix told Uber to “stop wasting time and money pursuing lost legal causes and do what’s right by the drivers who prop up [your] empire.”

“This has been a gruelling four-year legal battle for our members — but it’s ended in a historic win,” said national officer Mr Rix. 

Lawyers Leigh Day, which represented GMB, calculated that “tens of thousands” of Uber drivers could be entitled to an average of £12,000 each. 

“Uber has consistently suggested that the rulings only affect two drivers, but Leigh Day will be claiming compensation on behalf of the thousands of drivers who have joined its claim,” said Leigh Day partner Nigel McKay.

Uber took its case to the Supreme Court despite losing the initial employment tribunal case in 2016, an employment appeal tribunal in 2017 and at the Court of Appeal in 2018.

In today’s ruling, Lord Justice Leggatt argued the “remuneration paid to drivers for the work they do” was fixed by Uber and that the contractual terms on which drivers perform their services were “dictated” by the company.

“I think it clear that the employment tribunal was entitled to find that the claimant drivers were ‘workers’,” he said.

The ruling also rejected Uber’s claim that they should be paid only for time they spent with a paying customer in their vehicle.

Mark Cairns, an Uber driver in London for five years, said: “It’s been a long time coming but I’m delighted that we’ve finally got the victory we deserve.

“At the very least, we should have the same rights as any other workers and I’m very glad I’m part of the claim.”

James Farrar, one of the original tribunal claimants and now general secretary of the App Drivers and Couriers Union, predicted that the ruling would “fundamentally re-order the gig economy.”

“Uber drivers are cruelly sold a false dream of endless flexibility and entrepreneurial freedom. The reality has been illegally low pay, dangerously long hours and intense digital surveillance,” he said.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady described the ruling as “an important win for gig-economy workers and for common decency. Sham self-employment exploits people and lets companies dodge paying their fair share of tax. 

“Unions will continue to expose nasty schemes that try and cheat workers out of the minimum wage and holiday pay. 

“But we also need the government to step up to the plate. Ministers must use the much-delayed employment Bill to reform the law around worker status.”

STUC general secretary Roz Foyer described the outcome as “a win-win for workers and local economies” but warned that “as we speak, app giants will be formulating plans to have legislation changed, as they did in California last year.”

Labour shadow employment rights secretary Andy McDonald MP said the ruling was “testament to the hard work of the ADCU and GMB trade unions and drivers who have brought about this action.

“The Supreme Court has sent a very clear message that companies should not game the system by undercutting the rights of their employees,” Mr McDonald said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, welcoming the “landmark ruling,” said that gig-economy workers deserved “the same rights as other workers.

“Today is yet another reminder of the huge force for good that trade unions play in our society,” he added.

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