Uber drivers go to court over employment status

07/28/2016 - 14:28

The so-called ‘case of the year for UK employment law’ will see a group of Uber taxi drivers go to a tribunal to argue that they are not self-employed and so are entitled to employment benefits like sick pay and holiday pay.

Experts believe that the outcome of this legal challenge could send a shockwave through the jobs market. The ruling could influence employment practices in a range of sectors and industries.

Uber considers all of its drivers self-employed. It argues that Uber is just a technology company; an app that connects professional drivers with people who need a lift. Accordingly, they don’t need to offer the same range of perks to drivers. So there’s no need to contribute to driver pensions, or offer sick pay or holiday pay.

However, the lawyers acting for the Uber drivers will argue that their terms and conditions of work mean that they cannot be considered self-employed.

The lawyers say that because, for example, Uber rates all of the drivers and does not always tell them where their final destination is, the drivers can’t be considered self-employed.

Instead they argue that the drivers should have the employment status of ‘worker.’ ‘Workers’ have fewer employment rights than employees, but they do receive basic perks like the national minimum wage, holiday pay, discrimination protection and the right to not have deductions made from  their salary.

One of the lawyers involved in the tribunal case claimed that if the drivers were successful in their litigation, it could lead to more businesses facing similar claims.

There was a “creeping erosion of employment rights as companies misclassify their workers as self-employed,” she said.

The ready availability of smart phones and other technological innovations have made it easier for companies to maintain a looser employment relationship with their workers. Transportation and delivery companies have been particularly prolific in doing this.

Hermes, the couriers, and Deliveroo, the city-centre restaurant delivery service are both businesses in the ‘on-demand’ or ‘gig’ economy, and both use controversial employment practices.

Miles Grady, Director of Umbrella.co.uk said: “We will be monitoring this tribunal closely as we believe its result could have an impact across industries and sectors. 

“In recent weeks and months we have seen some big backlashes against controversial working practices. Last year Pizza Express was forced to change its policies around keeping staff tips after a public backlash, and more recently Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct got a bruising from MPs for allowing what was described as ‘workhouse’ factory conditions.

“Now self-employed workers are coming under more scrutiny. And although these jobs are still well liked by people who value flexibility in their lives, companies should be wary that their employment status policies are correct.”

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