Should Uber learn from King Canute?

Category: Employment

We appreciate that we might be the only people in the world who feel a little sorry for Uber, but you’ve got to have some sympathy for a business which has tried to make its case that its drivers are self-employed on three occasions and, on each of those occasions, been knocked back; however, they still appear to be determined to keep fighting.

The Court of Appeal is the most recent court to determine, albeit not unanimously, that Uber’s drivers are workers and, therefore, entitled to basic rights such as holiday and the minimum wage.

Given that the tide of cases has been firmly in the direction of finding that those working in the gig economy are workers, this outcome would not normally be terribly exciting or interesting.  What makes this decision interesting is the fact that one Court of Appeal Judge, LJ Underhill, disagreed with the majority, finding that the self-employment relationship put forward by Uber is neither unrealistic nor artificial.

Why do we care about a dissenting decision?  Well, it shines a light on a possible alternative approach that the Supreme Court could take when, inevitably, this case ends up before the highest court in the land.  There is still a possibility that, in its final stage of appeal, Uber could yet stop the tide.   Either way, the stakes are high for Uber and the new raft of “disruptor” businesses that rely on the self-employment model to maintain flexibility whilst avoiding the liabilities which come with employment rights.