Uber Supreme Court employment ruling could make it “difficult” for other minicab operators to defend

Yesterday marked the final court submissions in a five-year legal battle conducted by Uber drivers seeking workers’ rights, in what could be a a landmark gig economy ruling.

If the decision goes against the private hire giants, other operators could be pressured to adapt their own business models to provide sufficient employment rights.

According to legal experts, Leigh Day, whilst any ruling found in favour of the drivers would not be binding for other similar private hire app operators, it would however become “difficult” for others to defend should Uber lose at the Supreme Court.

In the current legal action brought on by Uber drivers, it is argued that Uber should provide its drivers with paid holiday and ensure they are paid at least the minimum wage.

In October 2016, the Employment Tribunal ruled that Uber drivers are workers and entitled to workers’ rights. The ruling was upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in November 2017 and the Court of Appeal in December 2018.

If the drivers succeed at the Supreme Court, the case will then return to the Employment Tribunal which will decide how much compensation drivers are entitled to. No set date for a decision on this week’s court hearing has been set.

Kate Robinson, a Leigh Day employment solicitor, spoke to TaxiPoint answering three questions being hotly debated in the taxi and and private hire industry:

Can Uber ignore the ruling from the Supreme Court if their appeal is once again rejected? 

“In short, no. The Supreme Court is the highest appeal court in the UK and Uber has not asked for the case to be referred to the European Court of Justice at any stage.

“In practice, this means that Uber would no longer be able to deny that drivers are workers and therefore entitled to rights such as paid holiday and to be paid at least the minimum wage. The company will need to compensate drivers who have brought a claim for failures to provide these rights.”

What changes to their working model do you envisage should Uber have to offer holidays and other rights?

“Uber does not need to make significant changes to its model to comply with employment legislation. For example, drivers do not need to lose flexibility or work fixed hours. Uber simply needs to ensure it allows drivers to take time off and to pay them for this, in the same way that any worker is entitled to paid holiday. The amount of holiday entitlement is relatively easy to calculate, even for workers who don’t work fixed hours.

“Uber also needs to make sure that the rate it pays its drivers is high enough that they receive at least the minimum wage, once you take into account the amounts they have to spend on expenses, like petrol.”

Will all operators working to a similar model be affected? i.e will Addison Lee, FREE NOW (formally Kapten), Bolt or Ola have to change the way they treat drivers too?

“Operators working within a similar model will not be directly affected, or “bound”, by the judgment. However, if our clients are successful, other operators may choose to be proactive and begin providing their drivers with paid pay and paying them at least the national minimum wage, in order to avoid similar cases being brought against them. If their working models are very similar to Uber, it will be difficult for them to defend these types of claims should Uber lose at the Supreme Court.”

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