UK gig drivers recognised as workers – what next?


In a landmark judgment last Friday, the UK Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favour of ‘gig’ workers in a six-year battle between a number of drivers from the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) and Uber, upholding an earlier decision by an employment tribunal. This is a big win, especially since Uber often masks its exploitative treatment of workers behind the myth of ‘flexibility’.

Following the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain and Italy, a pattern is emerging across European Union cities, and now in the UK, regarding the employment status of workers in the platform economy. Larger questions however loom as to the adequacy of these legal protections, especially for already precarious workers.

The Supreme Court’s decision was based on two main determinations. The first was with regard to the classification of drivers: are they workers or self-employed? The second concerned working hours: as drivers, during what periods are they considered to be working?

Tight control

As to the former, the court ruled that Uber’s tight control of its drivers made them workers, not independent entrepreneurs. The company set the fares and imposed contract terms, with drivers having no say in the context of information asymmetry. It constrained its drivers when logged on and exercised significant control via its proprietary technology over how they could deliver their services, as with routing options and the ratings system. It limited communication between passenger and driver: complaints, fare collection, payment of drivers and contact details of passengers were mainly handled by Uber.

Put together, the judgment asserted that drivers ‘have little or no ability to improve their economic position through professional or entrepreneurial skill. In practice the only way in which they can increase their earnings is by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance.’

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