Employment Law in the Digital Age
A recent UK employment law case of interest is the tribunal proceedings between Uber and two of its drivers. Uber, a hugely popular taxi app that allows users to order cabs at the click of a button, is now valued at $62.5bn. The company is now coming under fire as there are disputes over whether the Uber Drivers are workers or in fact self-employed.
Uber argues that it is a technology company rather than a transport provider, working with “driver partners” who have a “commonality of interest”. Uber state that they offer drivers flexibility to control how much and often they work as they are free to turn off the Uber app whenever they chose. Due to this choice, Uber argues the drivers are self-employed rather than employees of Uber.
However, the drivers are arguing they should be considered workers within the organisation. The current link between Uber and the drivers is that the drivers pay a fee of 20% (soon to rise to 25%) to use the Uber technology. When a potential job is received, the nearest driver is offered it, if they refuse the potential job goes to the next available driver. At a glance it would appear that the drivers can work separately to Uber if they please. However, Uber do hold a relative degree of power over the drivers. To use the app drivers need to undergo initial training, follow guides as to which routes to take and have requirements for minimum hours they need to work. Moreover, if a driver refuses too many jobs from Uber, their app ‘rating’ will decrease which in turn will damage the driver’s ability to gain more customers, putting further pressure on drivers to accept the Uber jobs they are offered. Such elements add additional weight to the argument that the drivers are not simply self-employed.
So why the argument? In gaining the status of “worker” the drivers would receive basic UK employment law protection including rest breaks, maximum working hours, annual leave, whistleblowing protection, minimum pay, including the right to litigate (which Uber currently tries to avoid with arbitration clauses). This would obviously give Uber a much greater responsibility as an employer and hugely impact their relationship with their drivers.
Considering the case, it is clear there is a complicated grey area on matters of employment and service in the digital age and the outcome of the tribunal case will test the current way we understand employment law in the wake of a technological takeover.
Disclaimer: This article has been published for information purposes only and it should not be relied upon as being a substitute for specific legal advice on an individual’s legal position which may be affected by their particular circumstances. Specific legal advice should always be sought first from a legally qualified professional and no legal liability is accepted by the author of this article or Careys Law Limited.