Uber doth protest too much, methinks

Uber doth protest too much, methinks

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The notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous”.[1]

Friday’s decision of the London Central Employment Tribunal to find that two Uber drivers are ‘workers’ within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996, whilst almost certain to be challenged, could have severe repercussions for the shift of large swathes of the UK service sector to a gig economy model.

The Tribunal was dismissive of Uber’s claim that their drivers are self-employed, noting that the company had resorted to “fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology”. Reflecting on Uber’s case the Tribunal “[could not] help being reminded of Queen Gertude’s most celebrated line: ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.[2]

Friday’s decision is important because, if it is upheld, it will offer the 40,000 Uber drivers (30,000 of whom operate in London alone) the rights and protections afforded to workers that they have not previously held as self-employed contractors. Perhaps most notably, Uber drivers would be given the right to paid annual leave; the national minimum wage -and indeed, the national living wage- and protection of whistleblowing legislation.

 At the heart of Uber’s defence was the notion- in slightly fewer words than their representatives used- that their drivers were “partners” not employees. Uber would prefer to be thought of as a facilitator of work, rather than an employer. Unfortunately, the Tribunal were not on-board with this view.

Whilst currently limited on the facts to Uber, the Employment Tribunal’s decision could ultimately affect the hundreds of thousands of people who are currently working as self-employed cleaners, couriers, takeaways deliverers, and taxi drivers. Since April, Deliveroo, Hermes, and a host of London providers of bicycle couriers have all joined Uber in hitting the headlines for their unorthodox approach to staffing.

  All of this begs two key questions:

  1. Are the wheels about to come off the gig economy? And
  2. How much more will my Uber cost?

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

[1]Case Nos: 2202550/2015 & others (Para.80).

Available at: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/aslam-and-farrar-v-uber-reasons-20161028.pdf

[2] Ibid: (Para.87).

 

 

About the author

Callum Scott is a Legal Assistant in the Nottingham Law School Legal Advice Centre.


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