For four years, employment status of Uber Pilots in the UK have been like a colorful beach ball: insignificant, kicked from court to court, appearing differently depending on where you stand. Friday the the highest court in the country has decided: A group of 25 Uber drivers who filed a complaint against the company should never have been treated as independent contractors, the judges concluded. Instead, workers are entitled to the national minimum wage, paid holidays, breaks and protection against discrimination.
For now, the decision only applies to 25 pilots. But it’s the latest sign of governments around the world putting pressure on Uber’s business model, and those of its gig economy siblings, including DoorDash, Lyft, Amazon, Instacart and the UK. Uni, the Deliveroo food delivery company. Lawmakers, lawyers, unions and organizers want companies to treat their workers better, even if the companies are not profitable.
“Over the past 12 months, the courts have swung in favor of protecting workers ‘rights in the odd-job economy,” says Ruwan Subasinghe, legal director of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents nearly 20 million workers in 150 countries. Last March, The Supreme Court of France has ruled that an Uber driver did not qualify as an independent contractor, opening up the transport and delivery company to tax. A similar decision followed last fall in Italy. Belgian labor authority filed a lawsuit challenge the worker status of food delivery workers last month. This week again, the judges in the Netherlands decided that the bicycle couriers for Deliveroo are not considered self-employed, and that Deliveroo must pay hourly wages rather than per delivery.
Outside the courtrooms, the Spanish government is preparing to publish new strict rules change the employment status of food delivery people across the country as of this month. And the European Union this month will begin discussing legislation that would govern platform-based work, with the aim of issuing new labor rules by the end of the year. The EU could, for example, relax antitrust laws to allow stage workers to bargain collectively, a kind of coordination that could today be considered an illegal cartel.
Uber has argued for years that it is simply a technology platform, connecting business owners – the people who own cars and want to make money – with customers who want rides and snacks. But the UK Supreme Court’s unanimous decision on Friday ruled that, unlike other independent contractors, Uber drivers do not have control over key parts of their work. The court said the drivers did not set their own contract terms, that they were penalized for refusing too many requests for transport, that they were assessed – using passenger ratings – as employees. Of course, the court said, Uber drivers can theoretically choose what type of car to use, but Uber first checks the make and model.
In response to the decision, Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, stressed that the decision only applies to “a small number of drivers who have used the app. Uber in 2016 ”and that the company has made changes to its driver since then. “We are committed to doing more and will now consult with all active drivers across the UK to understand the changes they want to see,” he said. Uber did not immediately announce any changes to its service, but has said in the past that it would raise prices if it was forced to treat more of its drivers as employees.
Similar arguments are playing out in the United States. A California law of 2019 restricts the use of independent contractors by employers. Shortly afterwards, a federal appeals court ruled that Uber drivers should be treated like employees, entitled to minimum wage, workers’ compensation and other benefits. Ultimately, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and others escaped lawmakers and courts in spend over $ 200 million on a voting measure that allows them to continue to treat workers like entrepreneurs, with a few additional benefits. Californians approved Proposition 22 in November.