Lawyers for two former drivers who last week won an employment tribunal judgment that they were in fact employed as workers and should therefore benefit from the minimum wage, holiday pay and sick pay, said they were preparing to lodge multiple new cases with the same court.
The US taxi app giant has pledged to appeal against last Friday’s verdict, which was sharply critical of Uber’s treatment of its drivers as self-employed. Nineteen drivers lodged claims and two, Yasseen Aslam and James Farrar, were selected to test the issues in front of the tribunal. Uber is expected to issue proceedings at the court of appeal this month or next.
If successful the new cases could significantly increase Uber’s costs in holiday pay and compensation for underpayment of the minimum wage where it can be proved.
“We have received hundreds of inquiries from Uber drivers who are unhappy with their working conditions and are interested in bringing a claim for back pay of holiday pay and back pay of the national minimum wage,” said Annie Powell, employment lawyer at Leigh Day solicitors.
“We will lodge further employment tribunal claims with the support of the GMB union. It will be exactly the same claim as for the first 19 drivers and we will argue they should be workers rather than self-employed and so should be entitled to workers’ rights.”
Powell said there was no limit to the number of cases it could run. The firm had pursued class actions with over a thousand claimants in other matters. Uber has 40,000 drivers in the UK, but the company insists that according to its own survey, three-quarters of its drivers feel that “being self-employed and being able to choose their own hours is preferable to having things like holiday pay which come with being employed”. Uber argues it does not employ the drivers and that while it charges commission on each fare, the contract is between the driver and passenger.
However, in last Friday’s ruling the tribunal judges dismissed as “faintly ridiculous” Uber’s claim that its London operation was essentially made up of thousands of small businesses linked by a technology platform. Uber resorted to “fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology” to portray their drivers as self-employed, they said, and ruled that it was “unreal to deny that Uber is in business as a supplier of transportation services”.
“Simple common sense argues to the contrary,” the tribunal ruled.
Uber is resisting the ruling and has told its drivers: “There will be no change to your partnership with Uber in light of this decision and we will continue to support the overwhelming majority of drivers who tell us that they use the Uber app to be their own boss and choose when and where to drive.”
Jo Bertram, Uber’s regional general manager in the UK said in a statement: “Tens of thousands of people in London drive with Uber precisely because they want to be self-employed and their own boss. The overwhelming majority of drivers who use the Uber app want to keep the freedom and flexibility of being able to drive when and where they want.”
Steve Garelick, secretary of the professional drivers branch of the GMB union, said the new claims were evidence that “drivers have finally realised they have a voice”. He said the GMB has received hundreds of calls from Uber drivers seeking advice or support in making a claim.
“I spoke to a driver this week who was so emotional over the fact that finally someone is listening to their plight,” he said. “People have not been able to articulate it before on a larger platform like the tribunal.”
Uber declined to comment on the potential new employment tribunal claims.