In a ground-breaking ruling, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has confirmed that drivers for online cab giants Uber are ‘workers’, as defined by the Employment Rights Act 1996, and are thus entitled to a panoply of rights and benefits.
In upholding complaints by a number of Uber drivers who plied their trade in London, an Employment Tribunal (ET) had found that, whenever they had the company’s app switched on and were willing to accept assignments, they qualified as workers and were, amongst other things, entitled to the protection of the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the National Minimum Wage Act 1998.
In challenging that ruling, Uber pointed out that the drivers had no written contract with the American parent company’s London-based subsidiary. Whilst they did sign written agreements with the parent company, their terms were inconsistent with the existence of any worker relationship. It was submitted that the agreements made clear that the drivers provided transportation services to those who hailed them and that Uber provided services to the drivers as their agents. The drivers were carrying on business on their own account and were not required to work for Uber.
In dismissing the appeal, however, the EAT found that the contractual documents did not reflect the true relationship between the drivers and the London subsidiary. The reality was that the drivers formed a central part of Uber’s business in providing transportation services. The level of control to which they were required to submit pointed away from a conclusion that they worked on their own account and that their direct contractual relationship was with their passengers. It could not be said that the London subsidiary merely acted as the drivers’ agent.
The obligations imposed upon the drivers to accept trips offered by Uber, and not to cancel trips once accepted – there being potential penalties for doing so – was another powerful indicator that the relationship was not one of agency. If they had the app switched on, the drivers were required to be willing and able to accept assignments and Uber described them as being ‘on duty’. There was nothing inconsistent or perverse about the ET’s conclusions.