Uber to defend 'contractor' business model

A London tribunal will tomorrow begin to hear whether drivers for Uber are workers deserving of employment rights or are really just self-employed.

The company behind the ride-hailing app will be arguing the latter – that the drivers are no more than ‘partners’ or contractors who earn their living from multiple sources.

Lawyers at Leigh Day, instructed by the GMB union, will counter, saying that the drivers are in fact workers, and so are entitled to receive holiday pay and at least the National Minimum Wage day-to-day.

“A successful claim against Uber could have wide ramifications for a range of workers in various industry sectors”, cautioned the lawyers, partly referring to sharing-economy companies.

“These test cases will not only determine a further 17 claims that have been brought against Uber but will have wider implications for the tens of thousands of Uber drivers”.

Uber will also face accusations from the lawyers that it unlawfully deducts sums from drivers’ pay, without informing them in advance, including when customers complain.

As part of its defence Uber, which has its European HQ in the Netherlands, is set to argue that drivers – including the 42,000 in London -- can seek remedy in the Dutch courts.

It is also likely to reiterate its own research said to show that the top reason drivers use its app is because they have “complete flexibility and control.”

Annie Powell, a lawyer in the employment team at Leigh Day who is representing the drivers, is ready to disagree.

"We will argue that Uber exerts significant control over its drivers in order to provide an on-demand taxi service to the public," she says.

"If Uber wishes to operate in this way, and to reap the substantial benefits, then it must acknowledge its responsibilities towards those drivers as workers."

As well as implications for the company under health and safety law if the tribunal rules against it, such a verdict could see substantial pay outs for drivers, including compensation.

Jul 19, 2016