The Uber case: is a pool driver self-employed or a worker?
An Employment Tribunal considered this question recently and confirmed that an Uber pool driver is a worker within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996 s.230(3)(b). This question determines what rights the Uber drivers have.
(1) Y Aslam (2) J Farrar & Ors v Uber & Ors 
Uber is a global firm that allows people to order taxis via a mobile phone app. Users submit a trip request and the app contacts the closest driver to the location, giving them 10 seconds to accept the booking: if they do not accept, Uber assumes they are unavailable and locates another driver.
The drivers use their own cars and payment is made automatically via the app direct to Uber.
Drivers were paid weekly by Uber for the fares they had earned, minus a ‘service fee’ of 20 per cent for the use of the app.
The drivers’ case: workers
They should be defined as a ‘worker’ at all times that they had the Uber app switched on, were within the territory in which they were authorised to work and were able and willing to accept assignments. One driver stated that he had been put under tremendous pressure to work long hours and accept jobs. Some months he earned as little as £5 an hour, far below the £7.20 that employers are obliged to pay workers aged over 25.
It was a technology company and the drivers were independent self-employed contractors using that technology to make money. The drivers were independent self-employed contractors who could choose where and when they worked. The drivers were under no obligation to switch on the app or accept any assignments offered to them. The only contract in existence was between the driver and the passenger.
The app was the only medium through which drivers could access Uber driving work. Drivers were, at the very least, ‘working’ for Uber from the point of accepting a trip.
Uber did not work for the drivers; the drivers worked for Uber by providing the skilled labour through which Uber delivered its services.
Drivers had to operate strictly on Uber’s terms and were in no position to grow, except by spending more hours driving. Therefore, the drivers who provide services to Uber are ‘workers’ within the meaning of the ERA 1998. This means they are entitled to a limited number of employment rights including:
- 6 weeks’ paid annual leave;
- Maximum 48-hour average working week;
- Rest breaks;
- National minimum wage;
- Sick pay.
Points to note
While Uber has stated that it would appeal the Employment Tribunal ruling, this decision does increase the chances of other companies facing claims that their ‘contractors’ have worker status.
The Uber ruling could also force a rethink of the ‘gig economy’ business model, where companies use apps and the internet to match customers with workers. On 8 November 2016, it was announced that a group of food takeaway couriers working for Deliveroo were taking legal steps in the UK to gain union recognition and workers’ rights.
There are an increasing number of start-up businesses adopting Uber’s model, and these businesses may owe a lot more to their workers than they initially expected.
Posted on Jan 17th, 2017 by Lyons Davidson