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UK Supreme Court Uber ruling will ‘fundamentally re-order gig economy’
Uber car in London Pic: Shutterstock

19 Feb 2021 / employment Print

Uber ruling ‘fundamentally re-orders gig economy’

Taxi-hailing platform Uber has lost its long-running battle in the UK Supreme Court over the rights of its 60,000 drivers in that country.

The unanimous dismissal by seven justices could see the millions of people who operate in the “gig economy” reclassified as “workers”, rather than independent third-party contractors.

As such, they are entitled to basic employment protections, such as minimum wage and holiday pay.

It is expected to have knock-on effects on other 'gig economy' tech platforms such as food delivery firm Deliveroo, which hires workers on a job-by-job basis.

Unions have hailed the victory as “historic” as it opens the doors to backdated compensation claims. Unions have described the gig economy as exploitative, while tech platforms praise its flexibility.

Uber has signalled that its position is that the ruling only applies to the 25 drivers who were claimants in the case. The tech platform fought three earlier rounds in court on the question, before appealing to the Supreme Court.


Yaseen Aslam, (co-lead claimant and App Drivers and Couriers Union President) said: "I am overjoyed and greatly relieved by this decision which will bring relief to so many workers in the gig economy who so desperately need it."

Co-lead claimant and the union's general secretary James Farrar said: "This ruling will fundamentally re-order the gig economy and bring an end to rife exploitation of workers by means of algorithmic and contract trickery.

"Uber drivers are cruelly sold a false dream of endless flexibility and entrepreneurial freedom.

"The reality has been illegally low pay, dangerously long hours and intense digital surveillance."


"I am delighted that workers at last have some remedy because of this ruling, but the government must urgently strengthen the law so that gig workers may also have access to sick pay and protection from unfair dismissal."

Nigel Mackay (employment law partner in Leigh Day) said: "Our clients have been fighting for workers' rights for many years, so we are delighted that the end is finally in sight.

"Already an employment tribunal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal have ruled that Uber drivers are entitled to workers' rights, and now the Supreme Court has come to the same conclusion.

Mick Rix (GMB union national officer) said: "This has been a gruelling four-year legal battle for our members – but it's ended in a historic win.


"The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of three previous courts, backing up what GMB has said all along: Uber drivers are workers and entitled to breaks, holiday pay and minimum wage.”

Uber's Jamie Heywood said: "We respect the court's decision, which focused on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016.

"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. 

"We are committed to doing more, and will now consult with every active driver across the UK to understand the changes they want to see."

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland