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Legal car crash for Uber as Supreme Court rules in favour of gig-workers

View profile for Catherine Almeida
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In a landmark case for Employment Law, the Supreme Court hands down judgment that Uber drivers were ‘workers’ within the definition of the Employment Rights Act 1996, National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and Working Time Regulations 1998. 

The gig-economy (short term contracts/freelance work as opposed to permanent contracts) offers unprecedented working flexibility, with Uber drivers being able to work where and when they chose. Until now, this working arrangement has been arguably one-sided, playing into the interests of the employer at the detriment of the gig-worker. 

Uber drivers were classed as ‘self-employed’ and were therefore not eligible for holiday and sick pay. The employer, however, benefited from an array of legal exemptions and a lack of requirements. 

The case of Uber BV v Aslam and others [2021] UKSC 5 extends the precedent of Autocleanz and followed the decision of the Court of Appeal, concluding that Uber drivers were workers. In Uber, the court by unanimous decision agreed that the written terms of the contract were not to be a definitive definition of the working relationship, but that the court should focus on the practical reality of the relationship between gig-worker and employer.

This landmark case will “open the floodgates” for Employment Law claims. As gig-workers can now be eligible for holiday pay, sick pay, national minimum wage and rest breaks, it is undeniable that this judgment will open a new chapter for Employment Law and provide a remedy for gig-workers who are now being denied their legal rights. 

For the gig-economy in general, this historic ruling will be seen as the balancing of the scales and the creation of fairness in the system. Prior to this, the Government's Taylor Review had been shelved and the scales remained weighted on one side, favouring the employer. Now the situation is undoubtedly fairer, allowing the courts to look beyond any carefully drafted contract and study the reality of the working relationship. The more control the employer has the less likely the individual is to be truly self-employed. We may now see increased litigation from others who have been waiting in the wings.

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