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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Workers Uber the moon

by New Worker correspondent

THE SUPREME Court has declared that drivers employed by taxi company Uber are in fact employees of that company, thus refuting the company’s arguments that they are self-employed. In a unanimous ruling, judges said the contract signed by the drivers was obviously designed to avoid giving them employment benefits as workers.

This is the seemingly final stage of a legal dispute, supported by trade unions, which began at an Employment Tribunal in 2016. The latest ruling largely endorses a 2018 High Court verdict that Uber were appealing.

Uber is a US company happy to make huge losses ($6.8 billion globally last year) in the short term to gain a monopoly position in taxi and delivery services at a later date. It does not like obeying inconvenient local laws on either side of the Atlantic, and was temporarily banned from operating in London for allowing unauthorised drivers to use its app. It incurred the wrath of regular taxi drivers for undercutting them.

Uber allows people to book taxis and delivery services through its app and lists these jobs for drivers to accept at variable prices, set by Uber. It has always considered its drivers to be self-employed and only paid them for each ride or delivery they carry out, rather than paying a fixed wage. Uber drivers provide their own vehicles and are responsible for costs, so if its heads Uber wins, and if its tails the drivers lose.

Speaking on behalf of GMB, one of the unions underwriting the battle, Mick Rix demanded that Uber accept the result and “stop wasting time and money pursuing lost legal causes and do what’s right by the drivers who prop up [your] empire”, adding that: “This has been a gruelling four-year legal battle for our members – but it’s ended in a historic win.”

The lawyers say drivers could be in line for a £12,000 windfall. Yaseen Aslam, president of the small specialist union the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU), said: “I am overjoyed and greatly relieved by this decision which will bring relief to so many workers in the gig economy who so desperately need it. During the six years of these proceedings, we have watched the government commission and then shelve a review of the gig economy yet do nothing to help us. I hope in future the government will choose to carry out its duty to enforce the law and protect the most vulnerable from exploitation.”


James Farrar, a driver involved in the original tribunal case and now ADCU general secretary, perhaps over optimistically said the ruling will “fundamentally re-order the gig economy and bring an end to rife exploitation of workers by means of algorithmic and contract trickery”.

Drivers will now be considered workers from the time they log on until they log off, not just when they are driving. It is possible that 60,000 drivers could win the minimum wage and paid time off. Emily Scurrah of the New Economics Foundation says this could be just the start of another round of legal battles, however. A similar case in California saw Uber threaten to leave the state.

Uber can afford cunning lawyers to wriggle out of decisions it does not like. It argues the judgement only applies to those involved in the original tribunal. It remains to be seen if this dubious interpretation stands up, many other employment tribunal cases involving other Uber drivers have been on ice awaiting this case.

This decision nevertheless establishes a precedent in many other cases. A University of Hertfordshire report published last year estimated that the numbers involved in the gig economy had doubled to 9.6 per cent or 4.7 million between 2016–2019. Almost a third of those made the bulk or all of their income from gig economy platforms, whilst nearly one in 10 gig economy workers are entirely dependent on gig work for their income.