Uber drivers went on strike for 24 hours on Tuesday complaining that, two years after a court ruling granting them statutory workers’ rights, the company has still not implemented them.
Although not all of the ride-hailing company’s drivers went on strike, members and supporters of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) were not using the app over the strike period.
Declaring that “the app is the picket line” and urging passengers to shun the company over the same period, the drivers gathered outside the company’s offices to demand fairer pay and treatment in line with the 2016 ruling.
Uber has not had to implement the ruling because it is currently in the process of appealing – although another hearing is due to take place at the end of this month.
The case has been brought by IWGB members James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam. Both of them are Uber drivers, and they are being represented by Jason Galbraith-Marten QC and Sheryn Omeri of Cloisters Chambers.
Tom Gillie, another barrister at Cloisters Chambers but one who is not active in the case, told Sky News: “Uber will argue… that the employment tribunal ought to have found in 2016 that Uber London Limited (the holder of the private hire vehicle operator’s licence for Uber in London) acts as nothing more than a booking agent for the drivers, that is that Uber London Limited works for the drivers.
“The drivers’ case is that this is a complete distortion of the reality in which Uber is clearly the entity selling the rides provided by drivers and controls the drivers in a variety of ways.”
These include “interviewing and recruiting drivers, excluding them from accessing passenger information [and] requiring drivers to accept jobs whenever they are logged on to the Uber app”.
Uber also sets the “default route for each journey, fixing the fare paid by the passenger and subjecting drivers to a performance management system through its five-star rating system”, said Mr Gillie.
He explained: “These and other facts demonstrate that in every sense, the drivers are working for Uber and are therefore entitled to basic employment protections such as minimum wage and holiday pay.”
Explaining the company’s position, an Uber representative claimed that almost all taxi and private hire drivers have been classed as self-employed for decades.
They claimed that, with Uber, drivers have more control than in any other private hire operator and many other forms of independent work.
Uber argued that the main reason drivers use Uber is because they value the freedom to choose if, when, and where they drive.
The company cited a survey by academics at the University of Oxford which suggested 81% of drivers preferred to remain independent contractors rather than employees, although this was not the standard set by the court ruling.
In a statement, the company said: “Over the last few months we’ve introduced dozens of new features, including sickness, injury, maternity and paternity protections.
“We continue to look at ways to help drivers increase their earnings and our door is always open if anyone wants to speak to us about any issues they’re having.”
Speaking during the demonstration outside Uber’s London offices, Mr Farrar told Sky News that Uber was only paying heed to complaints ahead of an initial public offering (IPO) next year.
He said: “Uber has done just about enough, or what it thinks is just about enough, to keep the investors happy while it heads for an IPO next year.
“The trouble with these so-called benefits is that they’re fleeting and they can be taken away or they can be given to some people and not to others, and we really don’t have any say.
“What we want is our statutory rights, not just some fiddling around the edges. We want Uber to obey the law, give us our statutory rights, to be paid fairly and to have holiday pay.
“If they want to give extra benefits on top of that, that’s fantastic, but they can’t offer these marginal benefits in lieu of proper worker rights and obeying the law.”