Today Uber lost its appeal to the Court of Appeal, in a landmark case concerning the employment rights of an estimated 45,000 drivers across London.
More broadly, this ruling could affect over 2.8 million people engaged within the gig economy.
The Court of Appeal’s decision upholds two earlier legal Judgments and has potentially significant implications for the global ride-hailing app.
In 2016, following a hearing before the Central London Employment Tribunal, Judge Anthony Snelson ruled that Uber had used ‘fictions’ and ‘twisted language’ to mischaracterise the employment status of its fleet of drivers. In November 2017, Her Honour Judge Eady QC upheld the Employment Tribunal’s Judgment.
Today the Court of Appeal concluded that the Employment Tribunal were ‘plainly correct’ to rule that the drivers are ‘workers’ in law and therefore entitled to basic employment protections including the national minimum wage, holiday pay and protection against discrimination. The Court emphasised the need to adopt a ‘realistic and worldly wise’ approach in analysing the true relationship ‘in order to prevent form undermining substance’.
The Court of Appeal noted with concern that Uber on the one hand tells the statutory regulator that it is operating a private hire vehicle service in London, and it is a fit and proper person to do so, while at the same time arguing before the courts that it is merely a company which licenses tens of thousands of proprietors of small business to use its software. This was described as ‘contrived’ and ‘artificial’ by the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Etherton, and Lord Justice Bean.
Consistent with the earlier Judgments the Court of Appeal found there to be a ‘high degree of fiction in the wording [in Uber’s contracts]… no doubt formulated by a battery of lawyers’.
In light of the ‘artificial contractual arrangements’, the Master of the Rolls and Lord Justice Bean dismissed Uber’s appeal and affirmed that the test Claimants (Mr Yaseen Aslam and Mr James Farrar) have “worker” status and, as such, a range of basic employment law protections.
Paul Jennings, partner, Bates Wells, said:
‘We are delighted with today’s Judgment which is ethically and legally the right outcome.
This is the third time a UK court has ruled that Uber has fundamentally mischaracterised its workforce. The Judge at first instance criticised Uber’s use of “fictions” and “twisted language”. He described Uber’s legal arguments as “faintly ridiculous”. The appellate tribunal upheld that decision. Today the Court of Appeal has again ruled against Uber, and criticised its use of “convoluted, complex and artificial contractual arrangements” to misrepresent its relationship with drivers.
The ruling will have significant implications for approximately 45,000 Uber drivers and, more broadly, individuals engaged across the so-called gig economy. We anticipate that thousands drivers will now seek to make substantial back-dated claims.’
Rachel Mathieson, solicitor, Bates Wells, said:
‘Today’s decision is an important step in the right direction towards the protection of individuals operating in what is commonly referred to as the ‘gig economy’. Although technological change has brought significant benefits to consumers, it has always been our view that these benefits can and should go hand-in-hand with a respect for workers’ rights. The two should not be mutually exclusive’
The test Claimants commented as follows:
Mr James Farrar:-
‘Today’s judgement comes as a huge relief to nearly one quarter of a million British minicab drivers working in increasingly distressed conditions in a dysfunctional marketplace where rules have been broken with impunity. It’s time for Uber to respect the laws of this country and the rights of its workers. The government must take more seriously its responsibility to enforce our labour laws rather than placing the burden of doing so on workers with the least means and the greatest vulnerability.’
‘I am delighted with today’s ruling, however disappointed it has taken us so long to finally get justice. We are forever grateful to our legal team Paul Jennings and Rachel Mathieson (BWB) also Jason Galbraith-Marten QC and Sheryn Omeri (Cloisters Chambers) for their great skill and commitment, which lead to our victory today.’
If you would like to request an interview with Paul Jennings or Rachel Mathieson, please contact:
- Sam Hunter, Senior Press Officer at Bates Wells, +44 (0) 207 551 7906; +44 (0) 7393 463 041; [email protected]
- Paul Jennings, +44 (0)7785 426347; [email protected]
- Rachel Mathieson, +44 (0)7393 462048; [email protected]
Notes for Editors
- Paul Jennings successfully represented Margaret Dewhurst in her law suit against another gig employer, CitySprint. As a result of the CitySprint case, the Central London Employment Tribunal ruled that Dewhurst should be classified as a worker – a ruling that represents another significant milestone in the field of employment law.
- BWB instructed Jason Galbraith-Marten QC and Sheryn Omeri (of Cloisters Chambers) to represent the Claimants.
- BWB, founded in 1970, is a law firm that works for a wide range of businesses, social enterprises, charities, institutions, public bodies and high-profile individuals, across a variety of sectors. The breadth and quality of our work is acknowledged by the UK’s two independent directories, Legal 500 and Chambers UK, in 21 areas.
- In 2015 BWB became the first UK law firm to be awarded B Corporation (B Corp) status.
- In June 2014, BWB became the first City of London based law firm to be granted an alternative business structure (ABS) license specifically to provide a unified service to our clients. This transition confirms our ambition to be the advisors of choice in the rapidly developing arena of impact investing and social value, and reinforces BWB’s reputation for innovation in the legal and advisory marketplace.
- BWB has over 250 staff and 38 partners, which means that we are large enough to provide a complete range of commercial legal services yet small enough to be able to provide a personal service to every client.
- BWB was one of the first law firms in the UK to be accredited as a Living Wage employer.