The victors of a landmark UK Supreme Court judgment affirming the rights of Uber drivers have taken legal steps to enforce that decision across London’s licensed private hire market, in a move that will have a knock-on effect for the industry nationwide.
Supported by tech-justice non-profit Foxglove, the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ACDU) have sent a legal letter to Transport for London (TfL) seeking enforcement of a key provision of their Supreme Court win that requires all private hire transport apps in London to contract directly with passengers rather than “falsely“ hold themselves out only as the driver’s agent.
Once enforced by TfL, it will mean all app drivers – of whom there are an estimated 60,000 in London alone – will have their right to minimum wage and holiday pay protected by the regulator by default.
The ACDU say the crucial paragraph of the judgment in Uber & ors v Aslam & ors, paragraph 47, states that private hire apps such as Uber violate transport regulation if they maintain the legal fiction that they form no contract to carry the passenger.
A spokesperson for the union has said: “These contractual arrangements have been rejected by the courts as a ‘mischief’ designed for the purpose of cheating drivers out of their legal rights. The court further said that such arrangements were not legally available to Uber under the regulatory regime supervised by TfL.”
This legal fiction has been a crucial part of the private hire app business model. It has enabled firms like Uber to not only deny their drivers worker rights but also transfer to precarious workers an unfair share of the regulatory and operational risk, the union has said.
The impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment extends well beyond Uber. Virtually every ride-hailing app – Uber, but also Ola, FreeNow, Bolt, and others – has operated the same 'legal fiction' that it does not directly provide transportation to its passengers, the union added.
The ACDU say the Supreme Court’s finding has other “serious implications” for drivers and passengers. The Supreme Court observed that Uber’s contractual arrangements – in which drivers were deemed to accept bookings directly from passengers – place drivers and passengers in legal jeopardy, raising questions, for example, about whether these rides are properly insured.
The ACDU are being assisted by Foxglove, the new not-for-profit that aims to make tech fair. Foxglove are also today launching a petition aimed at all riders who use these app services – which is aimed at Sadiq Khan, as chair of TfL.
James Farrar, General Secretary of the App Drivers and Couriers Union, said: “Sadiq Khan must act urgently to bring Uber, and all other private hire apps, simultaneously into compliance with employment law and the transport regulatory regime if they are to maintain their license. Uber’s contract trickery has not only cheated workers out of their basic rights but has also placed drivers in legal jeopardy and put the safety of the travelling public at serious risk.”
Yaseen Aslam, President of ACDU, said: “Today we’re making clear this isn’t just about Uber – it’s about the entire private hire industry. It’s not ‘disruption’ to concoct legal fictions to try to dodge treating workers fairly. We hope TfL will see sense, but if we must, we’re prepared to fight for the worker rights of all drivers and for the integrity of the transport regulatory regime which must protect drivers and the travelling public alike.”
Rosa Curling, Foxglove Director and solicitor for ACDU, said: “The Supreme Court has clarified the law, and it is now plain that Uber, Ola, and all similar ride apps have been operating outside the law for many years. We very much hope that Transport for London will take this opportunity to enforce the law to protect both drivers and passengers from an under-regulated market, and that a judicial review will not be necessary.”