The British Supreme Court ruled on the 19th that Uber’s contract drivers in the UK should be treated as employees and enjoy various labor rights, including the minimum wage, rest time and paid leave.
International media believe that the ruling will impact Uber’s business model and may have a broad impact on the “casual economy” which can accommodate more and more jobs.
“The Supreme Court unanimously rejected Uber’s appeal.” Justice George Leggett said the ruling “tends to give some protection to vulnerable individuals who have little or no say in personal pay and working conditions.”
In 2016, dozens of Uber drivers collectively sued Uber in a labor arbitration court in London. In view of the way of working with Uber taxi software and Uber supervision for a long time, the plaintiff claims that he has the right to be an employee. Courts at different levels ruled in favor of the plaintiff in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Uber insists contract drivers are self-employed because they choose their own time and place of work and often use Uber’s competitors’ mobile apps to find passengers.
According to the ruling, Uber sets the fare and contract terms, punishes drivers who refuse or cancel orders, manages drivers with the help of passenger evaluation, and limits the communication between drivers and passengers as much as possible. As a result, the services provided by contracted drivers are “strictly defined and controlled by Uber”, which can not be regarded as self employment.
According to the ruling, Uber’s contracted drivers are in a “subordinate and dependent status”, and it is difficult or impossible to improve their economic status through labor negotiations.
“It’s been a four-year legal battle for our members, but a historic victory in the end,” said Mick ricks, a member of the British General Union
James Heywood, general manager of Uber’s northern and Eastern Europe region, said Uber respected the court’s ruling and promised to consult with British contract drivers to understand the changes they would like to see.
Uber believes that the Supreme Court’s ruling does not apply to all its current contracted drivers in the UK. Heywood said the ruling was specific to “a small number of drivers who used Uber taxi software in 2016.”.
The UK is one of Uber’s most important overseas markets. There are about 5 million daily users and about 60000 contracted drivers, of which 45000 are in London.
After the Supreme Court makes a final ruling, the plaintiff can seek compensation from the labor arbitration court. The process may still take months, Reuters reported. A law firm estimates that the average plaintiff is entitled to 12000 pounds (about $16780) in compensation, and more than 2000 contract drivers may sue in the future.
In recent years, Uber’s operation mode has aroused opposition from trade unions in many countries, and has been challenged by administrative and legal reasons, including its inability to protect workers’ rights and interests and disrupting the taxi market.
However, in November last year, Uber won in its home state of California. A local referendum rejected a proposal, still treating Uber contract drivers as self-employed rather than employees.
Uber made a series of commitments to European governments and trade union organizations in the middle of this month, saying it intends to set up a more transparent and fair salary structure and provide more benefits to contracted drivers. Uber also called on other online car Hailing operators to jointly launch a fund to provide labor protection, paid leave and other benefits for drivers using different taxi Hailing software.
If Uber drivers seek compensation through labor arbitration, it may trigger more profound changes, affecting all contract drivers of online car Hailing platforms, AFP reported.
James Farrell, a former Uber driver who initiated the class action, said the Supreme Court ruling “will fundamentally redefine the order of the (UK) casual economy and end the widespread exploitation of workers by using (platform) algorithms and contracts”.
Casual economy usually refers to short-term work without formal contract or work without guaranteed working hours. Odd jobs often work for one or more enterprises and are paid according to the specific workload, such as online car Hailing drivers, express delivery boys and take away riders. Since its birth, the advantages and disadvantages of casual economy have been controversial. Trade unions have criticized the exploitative nature of the casual economy, while businesses say many casual workers enjoy the flexibility, Reuters reported.
The Associated Press quoted some experts as saying that the British Supreme Court’s ruling on Uber’s operation mode does not automatically grant labor rights to other casual workers, so it will not immediately have a significant impact on other enterprises that rely on casual workers, but it may inspire similar legal actions and may also affect legal proceedings in other countries.
Takeaway workers at delivery OO, a British delivery platform, are fighting for the right to collective bargaining in the court of appeal in London.
Farrell called on the British government to make greater efforts to reform the casual economy, “the government must urgently improve the law, so that casual workers can also be entitled to sick pay, from unfair dismissal.”.
London mayor Sadik Khan said the Supreme Court’s ruling that Uber drivers were hired was “a milestone” for those who suffered from low wages and a lack of labor security. (Hu Ruoyu)