Online taxi company Uber has failed to convince the Court of Appeal that drivers who make use of its app are self-employed contractors, rather than ‘workers’ within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996. However, in a rare move, the company has been granted permission to appeal further to the Supreme Court.
Uber has always argued that it acts only as an intermediary between drivers and members of the public who use their services. The company provides booking and payment services through its app and its written contractual terms with drivers make clear that they are independent contractors who deal directly with passengers.
A group of drivers, however, argued successfully before an Employment Tribunal that they are workers, and thus entitled to holiday pay and to the protection of the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999 (the NMWR). That preliminary decision was later upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the basis that drivers’ written contracts did not reflect the practical reality of their relationship with Uber and could thus be disregarded.
In dismissing Uber’s challenge to the latter decision by a majority, the Court of Appeal noted that the case concerned the rights of approximately 30,000 Uber drivers who operate in the London area. It found a number of features of Uber’s working arrangements that were inconsistent with drivers having a direct contractual relationship with passengers.
The Court also ruled that, for the purposes of the NMWR, Uber drivers are under a positive obligation to work whilst they have the company’s app switched on. Although they have the right to accept or decline any particular trip offered, Uber retains the ability to disconnect drivers from the app for a period if they turn down fares too frequently. Given the importance of the case, the Court granted Uber permission to appeal against its decision to the Supreme Court.