Uber taxi drivers found to be ‘workers’
The question of what someone’s status is, i.e. whether they are an employee, worker or genuinely self employed, has long been a complex area of law and frustrating for employers and lawyers alike. It is important because each has its own level of protection and entitlement, with employees attracting the most rights (such as unfair dismissal) and workers having basic rights such as the national minimum wage, paid annual leave and other rights under the Working Time Regulations.
However, as technology has advanced and businesses have organised themselves in innovative ways, the law appears more and more outdated and unduly complicated.
In a recent case of Mr Aslam & others v Uber & others, two drivers who provided their services as taxi drivers were found to be workers of Uber. Uber’s business is a smart phone app, through which drivers receive requests for taxi journeys. There are about 30,000 Uber drivers operating in the London area alone.
The two claimants brought claims for entitlements they believe they were owed as workers, e.g. failure to pay the minimum wage and failure to provide paid annual leave. There were also claims for detrimental treatment on “whistle blowing” grounds. Uber claimed the drivers were not workers but self employed or independent contractors.
The tribunal, in having to assess the status of these workers, noted that for example, Uber:
- interviews its drivers as part of recruitment;
- controls the key information about the passenger and the driver is excluded from this information;
- fixes the fare; and
- imposes numerous conditions on the drivers.
The tribunal found that the drivers were workers due to the amount of control exerted over them by Uber.
The outcome of this tribunal is obviously far reaching for Uber and other similar businesses. The GMB Union has described it as a ‘monumental victory’. However, Uber are appealing this decision.
The above case highlights the difficulties when attempting to assess status and trying to draw a balance between the protection of workers, who are not in the protected category of being an employee, whilst allowing individuals and businesses to be creative with new technology in competitive markets.