Uber’s Supreme Court debut nears as app suffers another tribunal defeat

Avatar photo

By Katie King on

Drivers are workers, not self-employed contractors

Taxi-hailing giant Uber has suffered yet another defeat over its unwavering insistence its drivers are not workers — with a judge ruling this morning that “yes they are”.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) sided with drivers Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, backed by trade union GMB, in their claim for worker status. Uber, now a client of Hogan Lovells but represented by DLA Piper in this case, has long argued its drivers are not workers but self-employed contractors. If that is so, it’s correct that Aslam, Farrar and Uber’s 40,000 other UK drivers are not currently entitled to employment rights such as minimum wage and protection from working excessive hours.

But at 10:30am today Her Honour Judge Eady QC ruled that Uber drivers are workers and dismissed the company’s appeal. She said:

“The Employment Tribunal had been entitled to reject the characterisation of the relationship between Uber drivers and Uber… in the written contractual documentation. It had found that the reality of the situation was that the drivers were incorporated into the Uber business of providing transportation services, subject to arrangements and controls that pointed away from their working in business on their own account in a direct contractual relationship with the passenger each time they accepted a trip.”

This is the second defeat for Uber in this case. At first instance, the judges pored over the fact drivers are unable to negotiate with passengers, and are offered and accept trips strictly on Uber’s terms. The judges, namechecking Shakespeare’s Hamlet, went as far as to say:

“Reflecting on [Uber’s] general case… we cannot help being reminded of Queen Gertrude’s most celebrated line: ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks.’”

Following Uber’s latest defeat in the EAT in London this morning, talk has turned to next steps.

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

It’s anticipated today’s judgment won’t be the end of this case (see one employment lawyer’s tweet below) with an appeal to the Court of Appeal, or a leapfrog appeal to the Supreme Court, potentially on the cards.

It’s worth noting that on 9 August the Supreme Court agreed to hear a similar gig economy dispute, this coming from the Court of Appeal Civil Division.

This case involves Pimlico Plumbers, a plumbing and maintenance company owned by extrovert businessman Charlie Mullins, who readers may recall financially backed Gina Miller’s Article 50 challenge. He has consistently argued that the respondent in the case, Gary Smith, is an independent contractor, not a worker or an employee.

The Pimlico Plumbers dispute — which has wider implications for companies like Deliveroo and Uber — will be considered by the Supreme Court next year. If Uber does decide to issue an appeal, it’s speculated the Supreme Court may hear the Aslam and Farrar case alongside the Pimlico Plumbers case.

Though there’s already some social media speculation Uber is taking its case to the Supreme Court, an Uber spokesperson told us that while this is an option nothing has been decided at this stage. The app’s acting general manager, Tom Elvidge, told us this:

“Almost all taxi and private hire drivers have been self-employed for decades, long before our app existed. The main reason why drivers use Uber is because they value the freedom to choose if, when and where they drive and so we intend to appeal. The tribunal relies on the assertion that drivers are required to take 80% of trips sent to them when logged into the app. As drivers who use Uber know, this has never been the case in the UK.”

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek's careers events:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub

Related Stories

Lawyers round on license-stripped Uber’s ‘dishonourable history’ as stricken company calls on Hogan Lovells to fight appeal

One says defending Uber is as out of fashion as defending Brexit, others think TfL’s decision is ‘Stalinist’

Sep 25 2017 11:35am

Uber launches appeal against London licence refusal

Provisional date set for what could be the most headline-hitting case since Article 50

Oct 13 2017 12:54pm

Why Uber and Pimlico Plumbers have both tried to have their cake and eat it

A look at the gig economy litigation and what it means for employment law

Mar 31 2017 9:54am