In essence the case was to determine whether Uber drivers were (a) genuinely self-employed or (b) “workers”.
Uber had argued that their drivers were self-employed contractors who performed services for third parties (passengers) with Uber acting as a booking agent through its technology platform. The Supreme Court disagreed holding that the drivers were in fact workers and as such were entitled to benefits such as holiday pay and national minimum wage.
Factors that were considered included the fact that Uber sets the fares and that drivers are not permitted to set their own prices and that drivers were monitored and could be penalized if they failed to accept a sufficient number of fares. Broadly, Uber controlled the driver’s interactions with their passengers and Uber gained the goodwill and loyalty of the customers, not the individual drivers.
A secondary issue arose as to when the drivers were working, Uber contended that the drivers were only working when they were driving passengers. The Court disagreed, holding that drivers were working from the moment they logged on to the app, in the territory they were licensed and were ready and willing to accept fares.
Aside from the fact that the decision tears up Uber’s business model, it has wider implications for the 5 million or so individuals who work in the so called gig economy. Whilst often praised for its flexibility, it has been criticized by others, as means by which businesses can exploit vulnerable workers and avoid basic employment rights. The case demonstrates that regardless of how the parties may categorise the relationship it remains open to challenge and the implications of getting it wrong are huge.