The Supreme Court found against Uber operating companies and said drivers should be classed as workers, not independent third-party contractors. Seven justices delivered the ruling on the latest round of a long-running fight between Uber operating companies and drivers. Lawyers said the ruling means drivers will be entitled to basic rights, such as paid holidays, and will have implications for others working in the gig economy.
Uber operating companies had appealed to the Supreme Court after losing three earlier rounds of the fight.
An employment tribunal ruled in 2016 that Uber drivers were workers and entitled to workers’ rights.
That ruling was upheld by an employment appeal tribunal, and by Court of Appeal judges.
Lawyers representing Uber operating companies told Supreme Court justices that the employment tribunal ruling was wrong.
They said drivers did not “undertake to work” for Uber but were “independent, third party contractors”.
But lawyers representing drivers said the tribunal was entitled to conclude that drivers were working.
A law firm enlisted by the GMB union to represent Uber drivers says they will now be entitled to compensation for lost pay.
Leigh Day lawyers think tens of thousands of Uber drivers could be entitled to an average of £12,000 each.
A Leigh Day spokeswoman said the case would return to an employment tribunal, for decisions to be made on how much compensation drivers should get.
GMB national officer Mick Rix hailed the Supreme Court victory as “historic”.
He said: “This has been a gruelling four-year legal battle for our members – but it’s ended in a historic win.
“The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of three previous courts, backing up what GMB has said all along; Uber drivers are workers and entitled to breaks, holiday pay and minimum wage.
“Uber must now stop wasting time and money pursuing lost legal causes and do what’s right by the drivers who prop up its empire.
“GMB will now consult with our Uber driver members over their forthcoming compensation claim.”
Paul Chamberlain, Head of Employment at JMW Solicitors, said: “This is a landmark case for the gig economy – lawyers acting on behalf of the drivers estimate that Uber could be liable to pay workers an average of £12,000 in compensation, along with holiday pay, sick pay and at least the national minimum wage.
“Uber cannot appeal the decision further, so we may see the business looking to pass on its increased operating costs to customers using the platform.
“Today’s decision could be decisive for similar worker status cases and is likely to encourage those employed in similar gig economy roles to bring claims to enforce their rights as workers.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No company is above the law. Uber must play by the rules and stop denying its drivers basic rights at work.
“This ruling is an important win for gig economy workers and for common decency. Sham self-employment exploits people and lets companies dodge paying their fair share of tax.
“Unions will continue to expose nasty schemes that try and cheat workers out of the minimum wage and holiday pay.
“But we also need the government to step up to the plate. Ministers must use the much-delayed employment bill to reform the law around worker status.
“Everyone should qualify for employment rights unless an employer can prove they are genuinely self-employed.”