back to article UK Supreme Court declares Uber drivers are workers, not self-employed: Ride biz's legal battle ends in a crash

The UK Supreme Court yesterday ruled that Uber’s drivers in Blighty are workers for the app-based taxi service, rather than self-employed contractors, potentially paving the way for more than 40,000 drivers to claim minimum wage and paid time off. The case was brought by former Uber drivers Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar. In …

  1. Shadow Systems

    Not all Californians are idiots...

    Some of us realized that "Gig Economy" workers were *employees* in all but name, so we voted against the Uber Law. Unfortunately too many bought the lie that "independant workers want" the law, which was absolute bullshit. No they didn't, they wanted to get paid a fair rate, get paid time off, have their medical bills covered, have their employer pay for the insurance premiums involved, and all the other benefits every other "official" cab driver would get.

    I'm glad you folks over there on the right side of The Pond have the brains to call a turd a turd & slap the stupid out of the idiots trying to roll the damn thing in sprinkles. Those "Gig Economy" folks are *employees* & deserve to be paid as such. I just wish enough of us Californians could see that fact. And that statement coming from a totally blind person just makes it all the more difficult to swallow. I felt like screaming to the other voters "Damn it, WAKE UP! Open your eyes! When even the BLIND GUY can see the bullshit inherent in Uber's arguments, the rest of you SIGHTED folks have no fuckin' excuse!"

    *Sigh*

    Meteor strike. Total Extinction Event. Uber HQ...

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Not all Californians are idiots...

      I'm glad you folks over there on the right side of The Pond have the brains to call a turd a turd

      You'll like this: In the UK courts there's such as thing called the duck test: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck the court declares it a duck regardless of what over-paid lawyers may try to call it.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Not all Californians are idiots...

        In the US they use the golden eggs goose test instead, if it makes someone rich it's legal.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Not all Californians are idiots...

        Even if it's a golden goose with a duck call?

        1. Why Not?
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Not all Californians are idiots...

          Kinky!

          Paris - You have to ask?

    2. ThePhantom

      Re: Not all Californians are idiots...

      And some of us who ARE gig workers, like myself, voted FOR the law so that we could remain employes. I was about to be sacked by the company I contracted for because under the law as it was written, I could only write so many articles before I would be considered an employee -- and the company could not afford to make any or all of their free lance writers into employees.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

        Re: Not all Californians are idiots...

        Yeah - you're right. What's wrong with a little worker exploitation as long as you can get a cheap cab?

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. ecofeco Silver badge

            Re: Not all Californians are idiots...

            Perhaps you should read the ruling and its reasons first?

          2. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Not all Californians are idiots...

            "I’m a contractor as many here no doubt are and I don’t feel exploited. I work on my own terms and manage my own business. Which is exactly what these Uber drivers signed up to."

            Not really. As a contractor, you decide who you're going to work for, what you're willing to do for them, how much they have to pay for the services, and all those details. You are competing against other contractors, sure, but that's the freedom you have. Virtually the only choice available to rideshare drivers is when they will work. That, admittedly, is a choice available to them. They don't get to choose other things though. They don't get to change the prices if they think they're low. They used not to be able to see where they would be going before accepting a fare, meaning they could be taken farther out of their area than they wanted to go. If that's changed, a quick DDG is still showing that it's unavailable.

            The degree of freedom is really the important detail in much of this. A contractor gets a certain amount of choice and ability to bargain when establishing terms. You already stated that in your description. Employees don't get as much of that.

          3. Adelio Silver badge

            Re: Not all Californians are idiots...

            Unfortunately they look like chumps. If they have almost no control on how they work or what they are paid then they are employees. Simples.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What's wrong with a little worker exploitation as long as you can get a cheap cab?

          I don't see many people in the West (or anywhere, for that matter) having a problem with a little worker exploitation in Asia, as long as you can get a cheap mobile / cellphone. Out of sigh, out of mind, but in my own backyard? Oh, the indignity!

      2. LDS Silver badge

        "are doing other things with their lives and happy to make a little extra"

        It looks they are underpaid and under-employed. Frankly after eight-nine hours of work plus commuting I would have little will to drive another three-four hours for little money. Unless you have a lot of available time and/or you're paid so little for your main job you need another.

        But this is the usual finger this kind of companies try hard to hide behind. The reality is they can't rely on drivers who do it in their spare time for a "little extra" - they need drivers to cover the whole day, and many of them do this as their main job, or the gig economy would never generate money.

      3. Adelio Silver badge

        Re: Not all Californians are idiots...

        But the question is, if Uber is cheaper who is paying the cost. Uber gets their cut, looks like the drivers are the one getting shafted

        1. eldoc

          Re: Not all Californians are idiots...

          Check out Uber's financials (billions a year in losses) and investors. Uber is only cheaper because Saudi VC money subsidises every single journey and allows Uber to provide it at a loss.

  2. bazza Silver badge

    "Since then we have made some significant changes to our business, guided by drivers every step of the way. These include giving even more control over how they earn and providing new protections like free insurance in case of sickness or injury...

    ... "but we've still not given them a contract of employment and statutory worker's rights".

    Well they're going to have to do so now, but I fear it's going to be a bit of a messy fight. It seems that individuals are going to have to take the initiative themselves. And many won't I expect, scared of losing what income they do have. A review can't come soon enough.

    Still, at least the end result is clear. There's a lot of people from cleaners to drivers to who are working under very similar conditions, and they should win if they take their employer to a tribunal.

    Amazon delivery is going to be a lot more expensive.

    1. needmorehare
      Thumb Up

      Amazon delivery is not going to be a lot more expensive.

      Otherwise Amazon would lose money overall due to a mass cancellation of Prime subscriptions and not only that, once said hornets nest is kicked, folks will cite unfair advertising as grounds to reclaim the entire cost of their subscription...(https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/reclaim/amazon-prime-refund/)

      Amazon would instead lower pay for new employees and freeze existing employees pay, much like how Apple adapted when courts in the US ruled they had to pay for the time spent waiting for security checks at the end of a working day at their retail stores (https://observer.com/2020/02/apple-lose-lawsuit-retail-employee-security-check-pay/).

      We need bigger changes to fix the mess that is the corporatocracy we live in, as there's little to be afraid of even if these big companies throw their toys out the pram. At the end of the day, cutting their noses to spite their faces doesn't reassure shareholders.

    2. Pseu Donyme

      "Since then we have made some significant changes ..."

      "... which we will use as an excuse to again drag this on in courts for years. If/when decisions finally come - despite our best efforts to stall - we will again have made such changes to keep on this ad infinitum".

    3. Adelio Silver badge

      If Uber are cheaper than standard cabbies (no idea about Black Cabs) then that implies that they are getting paid less that normal cab drivers.

      They all have the same costs. Car, maintenance, insurance, fuel etc.

      1. eldoc

        Uber are cheaper purely because the Saudis are paying a percentage of the cost of every journey, allowing Uber to lose billions each year. The price of an Uber journey is not reflective of the cost of providing it.

      2. Steve K Silver badge

        Insurance

        Standard cabbies also have a licensing cost from their local council.

        Do Uber drivers have the same level of insurance as (licensed) cab drivers?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well....

    That means people in UK might not have Uber as an option to move around soon. When the government decides contractors are employees all they see is the taxable paycheques. More regulation kills industries and this one is not sustainable if everybody is an employee.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Well....

      Funny thing is taxi firms have been sustainable for over a century after "the knowledge" was introduced.

      1. eldoc

        Re: Well....

        Indeed, and outside of London, taxi firms have been able to create viable businesses and compete with each other while complying with appropriate legislation. It's only the likes of Uber who don't want to compete on a level playing field.

        1. Kernel

          Re: Well....

          "outside of London, taxi firms have been able to create viable businesses and compete with each other while complying with appropriate legislation. It's only the likes of Uber who don't want to compete on a level playing field."

          Here in New Zealand an Uber driver has to have the same license as a taxi driver - but what is interesting is that a) an Uber ride is usually about 2/3 the price of the equivilent taxi ride, b) the Uber ride is normally ready to pick me up within 5 minutes, as opposed to waiting up to 40 minutes for the taxi company to answer their phone and then anther 45 minutes for the taxi to arrive, and c) it is not unusual for my Uber ride to be a car and driver from the same taxi company I tried to call in 'b'.

          The long delays in the taxi service pre-date the existence of Uber in my home city, so they are not due to the taxi company's drivers working Uber rather than taxi.

          1. sabroni Silver badge

            Re: Well....

            Look, we know it's a great service for the consumer. What we're talking about is the employees.

            Uber run at a loss (and treat their employees like contractors) to finance the service while they drive the competition out of business. Once the competition is gone they will no longer need to operate at a loss.

            Think it through.

          2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

            Re: Well....

            but what is interesting is that a) an Uber ride is usually about 2/3 the price of the equivilent taxi ride

            It's not that interesting when you know it's done by not paying for the driver's health care, pensions, holidays, etc. And the company is still making huge losses.

            This doesn't detract from the fact that, in many countries, the taxi business is a cartel and needs a shake up but that's a separate issue.

          3. JimC

            Re: Well....

            Thing is private hire damn well ought to be expensive. You are paying for a trained and insured professional to give you an individual service in a provided vehicle which as often as not (at least out here in the sticks) will be doing double your trip mileage in order to provide the service. And then we get onto the environmental impact etc...

    2. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

      Re: Well....

      Or to put it another way, maybe the Uber business model is only sustainable when operating outside of certain worker protection laws.

      As for the tax argument, those workers would (or should?) have been paying their fair share of tax anyway, whether they were contractors or not.

      1. Arctic fox
        Headmaster

        @jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Re: "paying their fair share of tax anyway"

        Exactly. Whilst the issues of worker's rights and proper regulation are indeed vital it is also important to point out that Uber's business model is in fact little more than organised tax evasion by Uber on the grand scale. Their "lean and market-disruptive" model is in all essentials parasitic.

        1. JimC

          Re: @jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid "paying their fair share of tax anyway"

          Oh no, can't agree with you. Uber's business is definitely more than organised tax evasion. It's organised employment law evasion as well.

      2. Boo Radley

        Re: Well....

        I'm sure those workers were paying their fair share of taxes, or doesn't Uber report the earnings to the tax authorities?

        1. Steve K Silver badge

          Re: Well....

          If they are self-employed contractors then taxes/NI are their responsibility and not for Uber to report.

          If they are workers then yes it is for Uber to report via (mandatory) monthly PAYE/NI etc. returns.

        2. JohnMurray

          Re: Well....

          Uber would not have been paying employers NI contribution. 13.8% of employees wage. And the VAT problem that has now risen will take more time...

      3. JohnMurray

        Re: Well....

        Yes....but since uber was, according to the ruling, an employer at that time, then they should have been paying VAT on the whole fare not just the 20% fee they extracted from the drivers. So they now have to pay the revenue the VAT they didn't pay, and the income tax...and national insurance contributions.....and they cannot end uber-then to become uber-now, because they will still be liable for the VAT...

        1. Barrie Shepherd

          Re: Well....

          ".but since uber was, according to the ruling, an employer at that time, then they should have been paying VAT....."

          ...and probably National Insurance.

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: Well....

            Charging VAT not paying VAT. VAT is paid by the consumer, the supplier *charges* VAT to the consumer, collects that VAT and passes it on to the government. Any VAT that Uber would be paying it would be paying to its suppliers in its position as a customer of their suppliers.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Well....

              You're correct, but I think that Uber has only been treating the commission it charges the drivers as liable for VAT. If HMRC decides that the full fare is liable for VAT then it will have to pay the VAT to HMRC whether it collected if from the customer or not.

              I had this problem when I first started consulting. I didn't charge VAT on my travel expenses when I first started. My accountant corrected me after a few months and I had to stump up the VAT, irrespective of whether or not I'd collected it from clients. Luckily most of the clients were OK to pay the VAT when I talked to them, but one refused because it had gone over it's tax year, so I was out of pocket.

      4. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Well....

        It’s exactly the same with the home sharing systems. Fine if it’s just your spare room, but people are renting whole flats 365days a year, often in multiple. Operating as hoteliers without having to comply with hotel regulations.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Well....

          Yes, which is why we're seeing municipalities and other local jurisdictions cracking down on "unlicensed short-term accommodations" or similar. The past several years saw a surge of AirBnB and the like in the area around the Mountain Fastness, and the towns and county have really come down on it lately. (COVID provided additional momentum, but the crackdown started before the pandemic.)

          Revenue is a big part of that, of course; tourism is a major economic driver around here, and AirBnB's weren't paying hotel tax (illegally) and were taking business from legit establishments that did. Lack of proper insurance and code violations were also factors. The local long-term rental market for locals got very tight, significantly pushing rents and homelessness rates up. And there were unexpected costs, like additional water use from vacation homes that previously had gone unoccupied for much of the year, and a drastic firewood shortage in the winter. (Many homes in the area are primarily or exclusively heated with wood.)

          Personally, I loathe AirBnB, which undercuts legitimate rent-out-your-home services like VRBO / HomeAway that manage properties, provide some guarantee of quality, and comply with local regulations. There are also local vacation-rental management companies which can do the same, and some locals who rent rooms (legitmate B&Bs) or buildings on their own property; they're part of the community and accountable for following the rules. I don't want to see them forced out of business by some "disruptive" aggregator that does its best to avoid all responsibility.

      5. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: Well....

        ...the Uber business model is only sustainable... when they stop losing $3 BILLION a quarter.

        Each quarter. For years.

        FTFY.

    3. eldoc

      Re: Well....

      Uber currently lose billions a year (and were doing pre-Covid). That suggests that the current Uber business model is not sustainable whether their drivers are considered workers or not.

      Their business model appears to be to use Saudi government investment money to undercut other taxi firms (and thus put the competition out of business) until such time as Uber are the only game in town.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Well....

        I imagine they would have to find a bribe-able government to enshrine their monopoly status in law. And currently we seem to have on of those.

      2. DJO Silver badge

        Re: Well....

        The business model was to not only wipe out local cab companies but then to replace the contractors with self-driving cars but they believed the wildly overoptimistic timescales from people working on self-driving cars.

        Basically Uber is screwed, there's no way self-driving cars will become available in the time-scale Uber was relying on, by the time they are Uber will have trashed so much money it'll take decades to pay back the initial investments.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well....

          And in the meantime leaner startups without a history of multi-billion pound losses will pop up to undercut Uber in the self-driving private hire market. Which would be hilarious.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Well....

            It would be, except the decision-makers at Uber will quietly abandon ship and switch to such startups. Let the original company burn through tons of VC cash creating the market, then leave it to rot (if you'll excuse the mix of metaphors) for a cozy position on the board of one of its successors. Because you have expertise in that business, ya know.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well....

      That's no bad thing and several towns did revoke their licenses for being shit

      Add the umlout to their name and it perfectly encapsulates there business model "over", all they offered was an app of convenience, but any taxi service i use regularly now has one so really hurry up and die and leave some assholes out of pocket

    5. katrinab Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Well....

      Über weren't even the first company in the UK to allow you to book minicabs via an app.

      Others give you a choice of local mini-cab firms and a price / ETA for each one; so you can choose which one you want to go with. Because the firms are able to set their own prices, and customers can choose which one they want to go with based on that, their local reputation, previous experience with them and so on; that puts them very clearly on the right side of the law in this respect.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well....

      It was never sustainable. Uber drivers are simply turning the capital in their cars into short term income with Uber collecting the profit.

      They've all but gone across Asia, with Grab taking their market... who cares, it was never sustainable.

    7. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Well....

      I think you will find companies like Uber who avoid paying taxes (and NI) are the ones who will lose out most when the roads they currently use for free are taken away in their idealised neo-liberal world without government. I personally will be taking tolls on anyone using the road at the end of my lane which will be shut when I'm off on holiday.

    8. Falmari Silver badge

      Not more regulation just existing regulation

      @AC “More regulation kills industries.”

      No what kills industries are these so-called disruptive businesses. So-called because Uber are not creating a new market, they are operating in an existing market without following the existing regulations and therefore avoiding the costs that come with following the existing regulations. The lower costs will mean Uber will kill the existing industry.

      Also, in this case there are not more regulations just Uber now have to follow the existing regulations.

    9. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Well....

      That's not the end of the world either, because there are other apps in the UK that can do what Uber does, but with better reputations.

      Hailo was a competitor started in London when Uber started coming over here and causing a mess. Hailo then got itself in hot water with the lads in the black cabs when they registered as a 'minicab' operation (so as to be able to run Hailo better) and a lot of the original supporters (drivers) left in disgust. Hailo then got bought by European mega hailing app company mytaxi, who then in turn ended up in Mercedes and BMW's hands and was renamed to FREENOW. Freenow seems to be available in several areas in the UK (like Oxford, amongst others) where Uber is absolutely not wanted and can't even get a toe in the water.

      There's also the Estonian app Bolt, which is around in London.

    10. Andytug

      Re: Well....

      Not only the exploitation of workers, but the even bigger elephant in the room, low prices bankrolled by billions in VC capital, which if a state subsidy would be illegal, and that subsidy provided on the proviso that once competitors are driven out of business then "surge pricing" will deliver a hefty profit for the VCs.

      Customers don't come into it, apart from as cows to be thoroughly milked come the day they realise it's too late and they have no alternative.

    11. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Well....

      Even when Uber gets away with their nonsense, they don't manage to be profitable. They are only cheap because every single ride is subsidised by investors. (A while ago it was so bad in China that the drivers would invent trips. Your grandmother books a trip for $10, you don't drive her, she pays $10 to Uber, Uber pays $12 to the you, you pay the $10.50 back to grandma for her effort, $1.50 free money in your pocket).

    12. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Well....

      As if nobody got around before Uber came along. There were no taxi drivers, no minicabs, nothing. No buses, no tubes, no trams, no trains, no horse and cart, no sedan chairs. We all just walked.

    13. JohnMurray

      Re: Well....

      86 downvotes.

      A record!

    14. Adelio Silver badge

      Re: Well....

      If it is not sustainable then maybe that is a good thing. Or Uber could start paying and charging a decent amount

    15. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Well....

      "When the government decides contractors are employees all they see is the taxable paycheques"

      I'd suggest you RTFA (read the fine arbitration) ...

  4. Natalie Gritpants Jr Silver badge

    Hopefully sanity will prevail

    and we don't get the extremes predicted above. Uber should rewrite their contracts to provide minimum wage when drivers are dedicating their time to Uber and figure out how to do paid time off etc. Uber fares will increase, but that will only be because they were underpriced due to under paying their workers.

    Uber can still be competitive as a taxi firm due to their app and market share, probably not valued as highly though.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Hopefully sanity will prevail

      that will only be because they were ... under paying their workers

      It seems that there is a possibility that if drivers are not independent contractors, Uber might also have a VAT issue affecting its competitiveness.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Hopefully sanity will prevail

        Black Cabs dont charge VAT and most of them are well over the VAT level.

        1. Falmari Silver badge

          Re: Hopefully sanity will prevail

          Taxis including Black Cabs, also mini cabs and private hire do charge Vat you just don't see it as it is include in the fare much like when you buy goods from a shop the cost you pay will also include the Vat.

          https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-vat-applies-to-taxis-and-private-hire-cars-notice-70025

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Hopefully sanity will prevail

      "and figure out how to do paid time off"

      That's already enshrined in law for full timers, part times and zero hours contract workers. It's pro-rata based on average hours worked over a specified time period. Overtime isn't normally taken into account for workers with fixed hours contracts, but is for variable hours contract workers. They all get the equivalent of 20 days paid annual leave as a legal minimum.

    3. hoola Silver badge

      Re: Hopefully sanity will prevail

      I would assume that the case will be Deliveroo. Are UberEats the same as Uber?

      What about JustEat as well?

      I don't know enough about those but they must all be the same operating model.

      1. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: Hopefully sanity will prevail

        Uber Eats is run by Uber, yes.

  5. Mike 137 Silver badge

    I wonder ...

    I wonder whether this decision might be brought to bear on the grossly inequitable core principle of IR35, whereby a contractor is an employee for tax purposes but not for employment rights purposes.

    1. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: I wonder ...

      Companies are too sensible to fall for this. You either get taken on payroll, in which case you're an employee on a fixed term contract, or you're hired via an umbrella company, in which case you work for the umbrella company.

      Who will indeed be obliged to make a pension scheme available, provide holiday pay and cover employer's national insurance.

  6. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Hooray

    About time these new 'disrupting' industries were brought back to earth with a heavy dose of reality.

    You see the use of 'gig' workers is nothing more than using casual labour for jobs, the old docks practise of hiring people by the day springs to mind where 200 dock workers would have to turn up at 7am to start work only for the dock owners to say "we only need 50 today" and those 50 would get 1 days pay and no benefits, the next day it might be 150 workers needed or none.

    My boss could use such an employment method to cover the high demands periods, but to his credit he wont, he'll say to the temps "I need you for 4 weeks work", and 4 weeks work is what he'll pay regardless if demand slacks off or we complete the job in 3 weeks, but we haven't needed temps in ages(partly covid , partly the level of automation)

    As for uber.. suck it up and pay the benefits, it you cant make a profit , then maybe your whole idea is crap, especially when so many older taxi firms seem to be in business....

  7. Mark192

    I'm confused...

    The Government keeps poking its nose into my business, so why isn't it poking its nose, proactively, into Uber's business?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: I'm confused...

      Uber has a division of lawyers on call 24/7. do you?

      1. onemark03 Bronze badge

        Uber has a division of lawyers on call 24/7

        If Uber can afford to keep so many lawyers on tap, it can afford to pay its drivers decently.

        Or have I missed something?

  8. Stratman

    I notice that

    all reports of the outcome refers to 'workers', not 'employees'. Is there a difference in law? Does this mean Uber must pay employer's National Insurance? That would be fun to watch.

    1. mark l 2 Silver badge

      Re: I notice that

      Yes there is a difference between a worker and employee.

      "Only employees are entitled to all statutory employment rights. For example, a worker cannot claim unfair dismissal or a statutory redundancy payment. Workers are entitled to some statutory rights, including those in relation to the national minimum wage, working hours and annual leave."

      https://www.xperthr.co.uk/faq/what-is-the-difference-between-a-worker-who-is-an-employee-and-one-who-is-not/24398/

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: I notice that

        There's some severe bending of the language going on there. If you work, you're a worker, it's irrelevant if you're a self-employed worker, a contracted worker, an employed worker, an unemployed worker, you're a worker. '"worker" and "type of employment" are separate axes. How did such illiteracy get baked into law?

  9. msobkow Bronze badge

    Good. I'm sick to death of "new business models" that are just old business models but "on the internet" and think they can evade oversight, regulation, and law just because they use some creative bafflegab to describe something that has been done for 100 years...

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      have an upvote

      for using the word 'bafflegab'. Gobbledegook would be just as good.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: have an upvote

        No, but I like it. Gobbledegook is inherently not understandable while bafflegab is intended to sound plausible while baffling the listener. Both great words b ut with different uses :-)

  10. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    UK vs Feraldom

    Over here Uber and others get away with classifying workers as contractors because at the Feral level labor law is weak and at the state level it is even worse. A couple of states have essentially abolished any contractors (California most notably) while most of the others haven't done anything significant on this. Apparently UK labor law has stricter definition of contractor than over here. Uber's stupidity is assuming other countries' labor laws mirror those over here. This arrogance is fairly typical of these companies as they ignore national differences in applicable laws.

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: UK vs Feraldom

      I'm sure Uber had access to fine array of lawyers that explained the employment laws and how they could affect the use of Uber operatives in UK but Uber execs still decided to sail the narrow path between the laws and see where chance took them

    2. Adelio Silver badge

      Re: UK vs Feraldom

      So America actually has labour laws? I got the impression most Americans basically worked from day to day. (On the basis that most employers can hire and fire at will)

      America is the country for Corporations NOT people. All the tax breaks and laws seem to be written to benefit employers NOT employees. If the employees get any benefits is it more likely to be an accident rather than intention. Goodness, we need to maximise the corporate profits (and get more kickbacks to the politians)

      1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

        Re: UK vs Feraldom

        It does sound like a shit place to work. The engineers at a large company US I worked at were all on rolling 12 month contracts. If their boss didn't actively renew their contract every year then they were out of work - and the bosses took full advantage of the fact.

        It's doubly shit because without a job then, unless you are very wealthy, you can't afford to be sick - or pregnant.

        As you say - people don't matter in the US, corporations do, but they the people keep voting for it. Half of them consider the Democrats to be rabid socialists, whereas they'd be firmly on the right wing over here. Many Democrats consider people like AOC to be way out on the left wing, whereas she'd probably be right of centre over here.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: UK vs Feraldom

          I'd actually put AOC (and Bernie Sanders) somewhere left of centre by UK standards, but certainly nowhere near the left wing. The overton window in US politics is completely demented.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Uber et al

    Won’t use.

    Workers should be adequately compensated.

  12. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Well done

    And kudos to the UK Supreme Court judges for not having been blinded by lawyers wearing expensive suits. It is good to see that Reason and Justice can still prevail against corporate greed.

    "We respect the court's decision" - well of course you do now, you have no other option but. And of course, now you wish to engage with drivers and listen to them, but you won't hand out mass employement contracts unless they go before an employment tribunal - which many will probably decide is not worth the hassle.

    So, in the end, Uber hasn't really lost much and, cherry on the cake, those "employees" can easily be fired in the near future as soon as they make a mistake.

    So I heartily applaud the decision, but until it is enshrined in law and valid for all UK Uber drivers be default, it's not really a win in my view.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Well done

      It's also worth noting that “Since then we have made some significant changes to our business, " says Uber. So just how much precedence does the ruling have over any future tribunals if the terms this current ruling apply to have changed? Since Uber were supposedly appealing to the Supreme Court to overrule the decision, they were expecting to win. Or were they just spending money on lawyers to delay enforcement of the ruling while they switched things around to make sure the ruling can't apply in it's current form to other drivers?

      1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

        Re: Well done

        IANL. I think that the way the Supremes worded their judgement makes it difficult for Uber to simply make small changes the contracts and then carry on as normal. The Supremes seemed to say that the concept of the "introduction app" and any wording that tries to get round UK employment law are not valid, however they implemented. Uber has control over access to the app, rides, pricing, profit, so the drivers are employees. This doesn't mean, however, that Uber can't continue to change a couple of clauses and then try to go to court again and keep working in the background.

        The other problem is that employment tribunals can't set precedent. Each case has to be heard on its merits, so if the current claimants get a payout it doesn't mean that other drivers automatically get a payout - they will have to go to tribunal. However, given the strength of the Supremes' judgement I suspect that there will be plenty of lawyers willing to take this on.

        The real issue is that the law needs to be changed or clarified so that the classification of "gig" economy workers as employees, contractors, etc. is clear in law. Again, IANAL, but I don't think this is that simple, especially since the likes of Uber, Amazon, etc. can just drag it out in the courts forever.

        A simpler solution would be for the licensing authorities to not allow Uber to continue as long as they have outstanding litigation, as opposed to the current situation where they are assumed to be clean until proven dirty. The problem with this approach is the same problem that the authorities have with all these services (Amazon, Uber, food delivery, etc.) - they are very popular and if they are stopped from doing business many people, constituents, will be annoyed. Plenty of people don't like their business model but there are only a small fraction of us who don't do business with them because of it.

  13. CrackedNoggin Bronze badge

    Let's not forget that Uber has never made a profit, and there is no clear way they can make a profit without raising prices to the point that allows competition - i.e., the present model is not sustainable. The original "innovation" of matching drivers and riders via computers and cell phones is wonderful - how it became an exercise in subsidized cornering of the taxi market for the purpose of collecting more investment money on the (dubious) promise of a taxi-monopoly is a disappointment.

    There is room for taxi companies or co-ops that maintain a fleet of cars/vans, handle emergencies, and provide a human face for customers and employees - but that also hook into smart systems that match driven vehicles and riders. If Uber (or future competitors) would "let go" of the miserable details and let others handle those, they could operate as an IT company with the usual IT profits of 30% to 50% of revenue contracting out services to taxi companies, which could include, but no be limited to, self-employed individuals. However, that revenue would be much smaller than Uber's current target revenue which is 90% of the US taxi-rider market (with extra demand corresponding to loss making subsidized ride prices). Unfortunately for Uber management, that kind of revenue shrinkage would be such a shock it wouldn't be the same company anymore.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Exactly to all points.

      We should pay close attention to the fact that Uber is using predatory pricing, regulation breaking and labor exploitation and STILL can't turn profit. That investors keep putting into this failure means there is a LOT more going on here than meets the eyes. In more sane times, this would bear all the resemblances to money laundering.

      But that's just me speculating.

  14. gerryg

    An Uber driver wrote (somewhere)

    The reason they liked being an Uber driver was it freed them from the tyranny of the minicab controller. The reasoning went something like "if your face didn't fit your family didn't get to eat that week". It's not a world that I know anything about but there seem to be enough Uber drivers (and Amazon delivery drivers) to suggest it wasn't all bad or perhaps there was a lack of better or suitable alternatives. This weekend I sent a parcel via a web based choose your service provider. I had a choice of companies, drop off points and hours (mostly 24/7) with tracking as standard and insurance options. Or I could have gone to the Post Office and queued for an hour, if they were open and paid twice as much or more if I wanted tracking or insurance. It's not as black/white good/evil as some might paint it neither am I arguing for carte blanche to "do evil"

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Re: An Uber driver wrote (somewhere)

      ....or you could have gone to the Royal Mail website, paid for your postage - with a whole range of tracking and insurance options - printed your label and had your parcel picked up by your local postman, who gets paid a decent wage, has all the rights which UK employment law requires and whose employer pays NI contributions on that wage and pays something close to its fair share of tax in the UK.

      It might be more expensive than other couriers, but that's because Royal Mail are paying for all the benefits that most people expect from their own employers - sick pay, holiday pay, p/maternity leave, pension, but, for some reason, think are too expensive to pay for other workers.

    2. Dangermouse 1

      Re: An Uber driver wrote (somewhere)

      How do you think Hermes et al keep their prices so low? It's not by paying their drivers fairly, that's for sure.

      1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

        Re: An Uber driver wrote (somewhere)

        I get what you are saying, and I'm certainly not trying to defend either UBER or Hermes; but on the flip side nonetheless, nobody is forcing these drivers to take the job if they don't like the deal.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    it took some time

    the gig bros have how leeched the tax system and, predominantly, individuals, for how many years?

  16. eldakka Silver badge

    I've read through the judgement, and it took multiple readings and flipping back and forth between sections to get my head (I hope!) around what was going on. Based on some of the comments here I'd thought I'd post my (IANAL) take on whats going on.

    The TLDR version is that Uber contract management fucked up, they fucked up big time. This issue is solely down to poorly (in fact not at all) established contractual relationships.

    The judgement itself is not about gig workers (which I wish it was) in general, it is about the actual relationships established between the drivers and the booking agent, Uber London.

    The players:

    Drivers - the ones Uber claim are independent contractors, but who claim (and won) that they are 'workers'1. Under UK law, these are Hire Car operators and must have a Hire Car License.

    Users - aka us, the people who engage Uber/dirvers for transport services.

    Uber - the US Uber parent, who isn't legally in this picture as all the various services are provided by wholely owned subsidaries incorporated in UK/Europe.

    Uber BV - one of Ubers aforementioned subsidiaries, incorporated in the Netherlands. This is who drivers have an independent contractor contractual arrangement with.

    Uber London - another of Uber's aforementioned subsidaries, this time incorporated in the UK. Because UK hire car law requires both drivers and anyone acting as a booking agent for hire cars to have a Hire Car License, this Uber subsidiary is the one who holds the Hire Car License for the London region so it can act as a booking agent for Hire Cars.

    The process Uber says of a User booking a transport service from Uber London is as follows:

    1. User fires up the Uber app, and (if they haven't already) agree to the various Terms and Conditions of usage, which establish a relationship between the User and the booking agent, Uber London, and allows Uber London to act on their behalf.

    2. Uber London finds an available Driver, and books that Driver to perform the transport service.

    3. Once a Driver is booked, Uber London 'hands off' the contractual services to the Driver, so that the contract is now between the Driver and the User, not Uber London, with Uber London having fulfilled it's 'booking agent' services and passed the contractual responsibility onto the independently contracted Driver.

    4. Driver picks up passenger, etc. [rest is not necessary to explain Ubers problem].

    Some of you may have noticed a problem with the above process, and as the judgement itself states (Paragraph 51, last sentence thereof):

    It is, however, trite law that a person (A) cannot create a contract between another person (B) and a third party merely by claiming or purporting to do so but only if A is (actually or ostensibly) authorised by B to act as B’s agent.

    What the judges are pointing out here is that there is no contractual relationship - express or implied, written or oral - between the booking agent, Uber London, and the Drivers allowing Uber London to act as an agent to the Drivers and establishing a contract on their behalf (the Drivers are 'B'). The Independent Contractor relationship the drivers have is with the Dutch Uber BV of Uber, not the Uber London subsidiary acting as booking agent.

    Since there is no such relationship between Uber London and the Drivers, the employment tribunal (which this is appealing) fell back onto traditional deductive methods to determine what sort of relationship there was. Therefore based on the type of work performed, how it was performed, how it was engaged, how it was controlled, what influence Uber London had over the drivers and the assigning of the transport work to the Drivers, they determined that the best fit for that relationship was 'Worker', not Independent Contractor, not Employee.

    Again IANAL, but I think Uber's solution to this problem going forward is to make sure Drivers establish their contracts establishing them as Indpendent Contractors with the actual booking agent corporation, Uber London, instead of the non-involved in the booking process Uber BV corporation.

    So as I said at the start, this is not about 'gig' workers, in the end Uber just fucked up their contractual arrangements, so were left to the mercy of how the employment tribunal viewed the relationship, and they viewed the contract-less relationship as a 'workers' relationship.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    1 Apparently under UK employment law, there are 3 types of, err, service providers, employees, workers and independent contractors. Employees have full rights and protections such as against unfair dismissal, minimum wages, paid holidays, various insurances, etc. Workers are an employee 'light', they have no unfair dismissal protections - so are 'at will' - but still have entitlements such as minimum wages, paid holidays, insurances, etc. Independent contractors are, well, contractors, little or no protections, no insurance (except what they pay for themselves), no holidays, no unfair dismissal protections, etc.

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Littleton Chambers provide an interesting summary

      https://littletonchambers.com/commentary-on-todays-supreme-court-decision-in-uber-bv-v-aslam-and-ors/

      Quotes are from the judgement, selected by Littleton. The commentary is mine - and I'm not a lawyer.

      ".... it can immediately be seen that it would be inconsistent with the purpose of this legislation to treat the terms of a written contract as the starting point in determining whether an individual falls within the definition of a “worker”. To do so would reinstate the mischief which the legislation was enacted to prevent."

      The "legislation" is the various employee/worker protection legislation. The Supremes are basically saying that the law comes first and you can't use weasel words to get round it. Actions define the relationship, not the contract. They also said:

      ".... any terms which purport to classify the parties’ legal relationship or to exclude or limit statutory protections by preventing the contract from being interpreted as a contract of employment or other worker’s contract are of no effect and must be disregarded.”

      So it would appear that Uber lawyers can't really get round this just by adjusting the contract. The court also said

      " although the drivers were free to choose when and where they worked it was the case that, at times when they were working drivers, they were in fact workers for and under contracts with Uber London"

      This is not based on the contractual definitions, but on the amount of control they had over the work they did - the driving - not the choice to drive or not.

      So it would appear to me that Uber's only way to get round this is to give drivers much more control over their work when they are actually driving.

      IANAL, but the Supremes seem to have come at this from a direction that makes it very hard for Uber to weasel out of it without making significant changes to the way it works. The approach (how does the law apply to what they actually do, not what they signed up to contractually) seems to be tailor made to go after some other elements of the gig economy too. Littleton's closing comment in their review of the case is:

      "In allowing the appeal the Supreme Court has however made largely redundant “armies of lawyers”."

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