“It took us six years to establish what we should have got in 2015. Someone somewhere, in the government or the regulator, massively let down these workers, many of whom are in a precarious position,” he said.
Mr Farrar points out that with fares down 80% due to the pandemic, many drivers have been struggling financially
and feel trapped in Uber’s system.
“We’re seeing many of our members earning £30 gross a day right now,” he said, explaining that the self-employment grants issued by the government only cover 80% of a driver’s profits, which isn’t even enough to pay for their costs.
“If we had these rights today, those drivers could at least earn a minimum wage to live on.”
Will we pay more for Uber rides?
That remains to be seen, but it could potentially happen.
When Uber listed its shares in the United States in 2019, its filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) included a section on risks to its business.
The company said in this section that if it had to classify drivers as workers, it would “incur significant additional expenses” in compensating the drivers for things such as the minimum wage and overtime.
“Further, any such reclassification would require us to fundamentally change our business model, and consequently have an adverse effect on our business and financial condition,” it added.
What is the VAT issue about?
Uber also wrote in the filing that if Mr Farrar and Mr Aslam were to win their case, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) would then classify the firm as a transport provider, and Uber would need to pay VAT on fares.
This relates to a judicial review filed by Jolyon Maugham QC in 2019.
Mr Maugham, a barrister specialising in tax and employment law, applied to HMRC to ask for a judicial review and that HMRC demand that Uber pay VAT.
“I tried to force the issue by suing Uber for a VAT receipt, because I thought that, that way, even if HMRC didn’t want to charge Uber, I would be able to force it to,” he told the BBC.
“The Supreme Court has fundamentally answered two questions at the same time: one is whether drivers are workers for Uber, and the other is whether Uber is liable to pay VAT to HMRC,” said Mr Maugham, who also heads up campaign group The Good Law Project.
“It makes it extremely difficult for Uber to continue to resist paying what I understand to be more than £1bn in VAT and interest.”
HMRC and Uber are still in dispute about the firm’s VAT liability.
What does this mean for the gig economy?
Tom Vickers is a senior lecturer in sociology at Nottingham Trent University and head of the Work Futures Research Group, which studies the jobs that people do and how they change over time.
He thinks the Supreme Court’s ruling has wider implications
for a lot of other gig economy workers like other private hire drivers, couriers and delivery drivers.
“The central point for me is that the ruling focuses on the control that companies exercise over people’s labour – this control also carries with it responsibilities for their conditions and wellbeing.
“This is even more important in the context of the pandemic.”
As for Uber, Rachel Mathieson, senior associate at Bates Wells, which represented Mr Farrar and Mr Aslam, said her firm’s position was that the ruling applies to all 90,000 drivers who have been active with Uber since and including 2016.
“Our position is that the ruling applies to all of their drivers at large,” she said.
Dr Alex Wood, an Internet Institute research associate on gig economy at Oxford University, disagrees.
He told the BBC that because the UK doesn’t have a labour inspectorate, these “rules aren’t enforced and it falls to workers to bring subsequent tribunals”.
This means that “in reality, it’s very easy for Uber to just ignore this until more tribunals come for the remaining 40,000 [drivers]”.
*By Mary-Ann Russon, BBC*