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In mid Feb. 2021, the UK Supreme Court reportedly unanimously voted in favor of forcing the ridesharing company Uber to classify its drivers as employees rather than independent contractors. The landmark decision in Europe means thousands earning income from the app are now slated to potentially receive vacation pay and hourly minimum wages.
Quoted by Input Mag, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom Lord Leggatt reportedly told the BBC: “The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Uber’s appeal that it was an intermediary party and stated that drivers should be considered to be working not only when driving a passenger, but whenever logged in to the app.”
Unlike California, the UK’s Supreme Court’s decision puts an end to Uber’s potential pathways out of finally having to offer basic benefits to its British-based drivers. “I think it’s a massive achievement in a way that we were able to stand up against a giant,” said Yaseen Aslaam, one of the original plaintiffs and president of the UK’s App Drivers & Couriers Union.
As expected, Uber is already claiming the ruling’s fine print only applies to a “small number” of its drivers, like the ones who filed the complaint five years, and that the company has already addressed these changes. However, Internet Institute research associate at the University of Oxford Dr. Alex Wood argued that the new rules “aren’t enforced and it falls to workers to bring subsequent tribunals … in reality, it’s very easy for Uber to just ignore this until more tribunals come for the remaining 40,000 [workers].”
Back in Nov. 2020, California voters passed Prop 22, a legal amendment that exempted gig-economy companies like Uber, Postmates, and Lyft from having to classify their workers as employees, thus overriding AB5. This law required the companies to classify their workers as employees instead of independent workers, which would have provided them with full benefits. Before Prop 22’s passage, Uber, Lyft, and other gig companies refused to comply with AB5 and even threatened to shut down operations in California at one point if they were forced to do so.
Authored by Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and DoorDash, Prop 22 went into effect in mid-Dec. 2020 after an aggressive public relations campaign of more than $200m launched by the companies — making it the most expensive ballot measure in California’s history. And despite their win at the ballot box, several gig apps like Uber and DoorDash announced fees for customers in California would increase to cover the costs of the Prop 22 driver benefits promised, even after several of the apps claimed prices would hike if Prop 22 didn’t pass.
Uber has regularly maintained that the increased financial burden to offer its drivers more benefits and standard hourly rates will cause their fees to skyrocket for consumers. And yet, Uber somehow managed to spend $100 million in ad money alone.