Uber Technologies Inc. is in court in London fighting back against a ruling regarding drivers’ pay. Last year, two drivers successfully argued at a tribunal that Uber had responsibilities in terms of workers’ rights. The three-judge tribunal agreed and gave U.K. drivers the right to more benefits, including overtime and vacation pay.
Uber complains that the drivers were not under contract, so they were not eligible for the benefits of full-time employees. Uber drivers were able to set their own hours, making them self-employed contractors, not employees. The self-employed are entitled to only basic protections such as health and safety.
Uber’s lawyer Dinah Rose said the Uber booking app acted as an agent, giving drivers access to passengers in return for a cut of the fare. She said drivers are under no obligation to use its booking app. Uber claims that almost all taxi and private hire drivers were self-employed for decades before its app was released.
Rose compared the company to private-car hire firms, commonly called mini-cabs. Minicabs, or private hire vehicles, cannot be hailed in the street like traditional taxis, but can be booked for specific times and places. In documents prepared for the appeal, she said that “position of drivers who use the app is materially identical to the position of self-employed private hire drivers who operate under the auspices of traditional mini-cab firms.”
In the October decision, the judges said that Uber’s arguments that it is an application provider and not a taxi service were “faintly ridiculous.” The ruling was the first against the company in Britain. The appeal comes less than a week after Uber heard it would lose its London license. The London regulator cited the firm’s approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers as the reason its operating license would not be renewed.
The ruling could have ramifications for thousands of drivers working for Uber. Judges in the U.K. have sympathized with arguments that workers should receive more protection in the so-called gig economy. Designating those who work for Uber as employees would add to Uber’s costs and bureaucracy across Britain.
The U.S. ride-hailing service has faced regulatory and legal setbacks around the world. Its French UberPop unit was shuttered after political pressure caused local prosecutors to seek a criminal conviction against the company. Uber is also facing legal issues in San Francisco and Germany.