UK Supreme Court rules on Uber driver status

If the platform loses, its drivers will be able to ask the courts to obtain employee status, at the risk of upsetting its economic model.

The British Supreme Court will rule on Friday February 19 whether it recognizes the status of employee of Uber drivers, with possible repercussions on the economic model of the American car reservation giant and that of digital platforms in the United Kingdom. The highest court in the country will deliver at 10:45 a.m. (Paris time) its judgment in this case which will have taken several years to be decided. Uber had taken the Supreme Court after losing twice, in 2017 and 2018 in court.

For now, justice, seized on facts dating back to 2016, has ruled in favor of a group of twenty Uber drivers who felt they were entitled to employee status, given the time spent connected to the application and the control exercised by the group, for example on their evaluation. Employee status would entitle, for example, to a minimum hourly wage and paid vacation. The company has ensured since the start of this long legal battle that the drivers are self-employed, choosing their schedules and places of work, and sometimes collaborating on several applications at the same time.

If Uber loses in Supreme Court, the drivers who lodged the complaint will then be able to turn to court for compensation. And in theory, other drivers will then be able to ask the courts to obtain employee status, which would upset their economic model. The platform, which is not profitable on a global scale, could then have no other choice but to increase its prices in the United Kingdom, even if it means losing market share if its competitors are not subject to these same rules.

The decision could spill over into all the digital platforms in the UK that operate thanks to workers in the “gig economy”, literally the economy of odd jobs. The deliverers of the meal delivery platform Deliveroo, for example, are trying before the London Court of Appeal to be able to benefit from a collective agreement.

For its part, Uber explains that it has changed its practices since the start of this affair. Drivers can now choose when and where they drive and can access free health insurance, as well as compensation for parental leave. Whatever the decision on Friday, Uber promises that it intends to offer more protection to its drivers, while maintaining the status of self-employed.

Director-General Dara Khosrowshahi on Monday unveiled a series of proposals to governments and unions in Europe. The objective is to guarantee transparent and fair remuneration to drivers and to offer them more advantages. The platform calls for the creation of a fund financed by the sector that would allow drivers to access assistance and social protection, such as being paid during holidays.

Uber plans to be able to replicate in Europe what it has proposed in California but which could face appeal. This American state had passed a law that was to force the platform to hire its tens of thousands of drivers in California. But voters approved in a November referendum “Proposition 22,” Uber’s solution whereby drivers are self-employed but receive compensation.

Friday’s decision is also expected to have little impact on the future of Uber’s right to practice in London, which has been the subject of a long soap opera in recent years. The platform had kept its license to practice in the British capital for 18 months last September, the justice having invalidated the decision of the City of London to suspend its license for questions around the safety of the passengers.

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