For years, Uber deployed lobbyists to world capitals to protect its business model. His lawyers argued that Uber drivers are independent contractors and use a service that connects them with people who need rides. Uber? It’s just a technology enterprise that suits customers with business people.
This argument has worked for a long time. Now, following a ruling in the British High Court, Uber has moved on, saying it will treat its UK drivers as workers. That unusual employment category, used in the UK, gives managers access to minimum wage guarantees after expenses, paid holidays and pension contributions, but managers will not be employees. Just a few weeks ago, Uber insisted the case only applied to a handful of workers. The new policy does not apply to workers for Uber Eats, the company’s growing delivery service.
“This is a very important revolution, not only according to Uber in the last decade, but also since the Supreme Court ruling,” said Paul Jennings, a labor and discrimination lawyer at the firm Bates Wells, which represents a group of Uber managers. in the case brought by the Supreme Court. The UK accounts for 6.4 per cent of the company’s driving businesses. Following the news, Uber shares fell 4 percent on Wednesday afternoon.
But Uber’s announcement is far from a clear victory for drivers, and is likely to cause more legal battles in the UK and elsewhere. It also shows how Uber increasing pressure for the recognition of a ‘third category’ of work, which provides gig workers with some traditional job protections, but is much lower than those provided to employees.
As UK workers – but not employees – managers do not have access to sickness compensation, parental leave or emergency leave, they have less protection against unfair dismissal. In the US, where workers are either independent contractors, those who are not employees do not have access to health insurance paid for by employers, or to reimbursement of business expenses, such as vehicle and gas maintenance.
In the UK, Uber’s new policy has an extra big caveat: the minimum wage only applies to the time drivers spend picking up or driving passengers, but not the time they spend joining the app to report and be looking for rides. The time covers a significant amount of drivers’ working hours. Drivers involved in the Supreme Court case estimate that British Uber drivers spend 40 to 50 percent of their time looking for new rates; a recent study of driving hail drivers in Seattle found that drivers spend 36 percent of their time waiting for rides.
As a result, Uber’s minimum wage is porous, argues Mark Graham, a professor of Internet geography at the Oxford Internet Institute and director of the Fairwork Foundation, a concert and advocacy organization focused on concert work. “You would not go to a restaurant and expect a waiter to only be paid if you bring food, or that workers in a store should only be paid if there are customers in the store,” he says. ‘It’s undoubtedly a good thing that Uber is now thinking of minimum wages. But they think in a limited way about dropping workers below the standard.
It is also unclear how Uber will reimburse its UK drivers for expenses. A company spokesman did not immediately respond to questions.
Uber’s approach to paying drivers in the UK reflects Proposition 22, the California ballot that Uber and other gig companies spent more than $ 200 million to promote last year – and which voters approve. By law, gig companies have to pay transportation and delivery workers 120 percent of the local minimum wage, but only for the time they spend on a trip. Proposal 22 also requires gig companies to contribute to accident insurance, workers’ compensation and a health care subsidy, but only for drivers who drive a certain number of hours each week.