Judges have dismissed Uber’s appeal against a landmark employment tribunal ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers with access to the minimum wage and paid holidays.
Master of the rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, along with Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Bean, backed an October 2016 employment tribunal ruling that could affect tens of thousands of workers in the gig economy.
The judges found there was a “high degree of fiction” in the wording of the standard agreement between Uber and its drivers, which it argues are self-employed independent contractors with few employment rights.
The judgment handed down on Wednesday said: “For [Uber] to be stating to its statutory regulator that it is operating a private hire vehicle service in London and is a fit and proper person to do so, while at the same time arguing in this litigation that it is merely an affiliate of a Dutch-registered company which licenses tens of thousands of proprietors of small businesses to use its software, contributes to the air of contrivance and artificiality which pervade’s Uber’s case.”
Uber is expected to challenge the latest ruling at the supreme court after being given leave to do so. The company previously appealed to the employment appeal tribunal before heading to the court of appeal.
The case began when two Uber drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, took Uber to court on behalf of a group 19 others who argued that they were employed by the San Francisco-based company, rather than working for themselves.
Farrar said: “We’re really delighted and relieved but also dismayed that drivers have no remedy while Uber exhausts another appeal. It is just a cynical ploy to delay the inevitable while they pursue a [stock market flotation] next year.
“It shouldn’t be us doing this. It is the government’s job to enforce the law and the mayor of London should and could do more to protect drivers.”
Aslam said: “We have got a union backing us and the ability to bring this case but this is not an ideal scenario for a precarious worker.”
Uber’s business model has been based on treating drivers who log on to its app as self-employed contractors and taking a cut of their fares, the level of which the company dictates.
The case, led by law firm Leigh Day, was initially backed by the GMB union and the two lead claimants are also supported by the gig-economy union IWGB.
Tim Roache, the GMB general secretary, said: “We’re now at a hat-trick of judgments against Uber, they keep appealing and keep losing. Uber should just accept the verdict and stop trying to find loopholes that deprive people of their hard-won rights and hard-earned pay.”
In June, a court decided Uber should be awarded a 15-month probationary licence to operate in London after the ride-hailing service promised proactive reporting of serious incidents and ensuring drivers only operate in areas where they are licensed. Transport for London declined to renew Uber’s private hire vehicles operator licence in September 2017 after ruling that was not a “fit and proper” licensee.
Uber has improved some terms for UK drivers, including limited insurance, limits on working hours and a 24-hour phone line for support.
The company is also facing pressure for change under more widespread measures to tackle employment rights in the gig economy by the government.
Earlier this month, the business secretary, Greg Clark, announced new legislation under which employers must give workers details of their rights from the first day in a job, such as eligibility for sick leave, pay levels, maternity and paternity leave.
The maximum employment tribunal fines for employers demonstrated to have shown malice, spite or gross oversight will, meanwhile, increase from £5,000 to £20,000.