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Uber’s rights ruling could have implications for UK gig economy

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Proposed changes to Uber drivers' rights could have wide-reaching effects for the European gig economy.

In a development of an ongoing legal battle over its drivers' rights, Uber is fighting to classify its workers as independent contractors rather than employees and appealing to the European Commission to set out more comprehensive regulations for gig workers.

Though the UK has now left the European Union, any decisions made in this case could still have a negative impact on gig workers’ rights in the UK.

Joanna Alexiou, head of employment law at Mackrell Solicitors told HR magazine: “The UK is no longer bound by European directives nor subject to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, but Uber drivers being classified as independent contractors by the Court of Justice of the European Union may be harmful to the positive steps taken so far by the UK to enhance the rights and protections of its working population.”

Alexiou added that the change in classification could risk eroding the UK’s commitments in the 2018 Good Work Plan which aimed to eliminate the “one-sided flexibility” in employment which keeps workers on insecure, zero hours contracts for long periods of time.

However Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at law firm Peninsula, disagreed saying Brexit has meant that it is unlikely Europe’s decision on Uber drivers employment status would have a substantial immediate impact on the UK.

Speaking to HR magazine Palmer said: “Indeed, this classification would actually go against previous UK court rulings on this topic, with the ongoing UK case concerning Uber drivers having consistently found that they should be considered as workers for the company and not self-employed.”

Calls for greater clarity into employment status have been around for some time, Palmer added, pointing out that the UK Supreme Court is due to rule on gig workers’ rights this week (19 February 2021).

She said: “This could mean the UK government may be influenced by a new set of rules from the EU that offer greater protection to zero-hour workers, such as Uber drivers, but does not change their status.

“How this would be implemented into UK law does remain to be seen, and for UK based employers it is highly advisable that they, at least for now, turn their focus to Friday’s Uber case final ruling from the Supreme Court."

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has defended his company’s practice of classifying workers as independent in a blog post, arguing that being independent means employees have flexibility and control over when and where they want to work.

He argued: “They are earning a decent wage, access to relevant benefits and protections, and meaningful representation."

Further reading

Warehouse workers in need of better rights

Self employed workers need HR support

Uber workers' contracts terminated by AI