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Supreme Court gives final ruling on Uber drivers employment status!

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On 19 February 2021, the Supreme Court gave judgement on Uber BV v Aslam [2021] UKSC 5.

The Supreme Court agreed with the decision of the previous courts, the Court of Appeal judgement which upheld the employment tribunals decision. Private hire vehicle drivers who provided their services through the Uber smartphone app, are “workers” under the Employment Rights Act 1996.

The reasons were:

  • The relationship between drivers and Uber London. As there was no written agreement the relationship had to be inferred by the conduct of the parties. The natural inference was that those who produced the documents required by Uber London were applying for a job as an Uber driver, they were not authorising Uber London to contract with passengers as their agent.
  • The drivers were “workers” because;
  • Uber fixed the drivers remuneration. The drivers were not permitted to charge more than the fare the app calculated. Uber fixed the amount of the ‘service fee’.
  • The drivers had to accept Uber’s standard contract which stipulated the terms on which drivers performed their service.
  • Once drivers logged onto the app, their choice as to accepting requests for rides was constrained by Uber. Uber controlled the information provided to the drivers; drivers were not informed of the passenger’s destination until they were picked up. Uber monitored the driver’s acceptance and cancellation rate, if the driver’s cancellation rate exceeded a certain level, penalties were imposed.
  • Uber exercised significant control over the way the drivers delivered their service which included stipulating the route.
  • Uber restricted communication between the passenger and driver to the minimum necessary to perform the trip. Uber actively took steps to prevent drivers from establishing a relationship with a passenger capable of extending beyond an individual ride.

The court stated that it was clear that the transportation service performed by drivers and offered to passengers through the Uber app was designed to offer a standardized service to passengers. Drivers were perceived to be interchangeable and Uber, not the drivers, received the benefit from customer loyalty and goodwill. The drivers had little or no opportunity to improve their economic position except by working longer hours.

By logging onto the app, the drivers came within the definition of a “worker” by entering a contract with Uber. Working time was not limited to the time spent driving passengers, it included all working time once logged onto the app and “on duty”.

The Supreme Court upholding the previous courts decisions will potentially have a far-reaching effect on what is known as the “gig economy”.

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