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SUPREME COURT OF THE UK HANDS DOWN SIGNIFICANT EMPLOYMENT LAW DECISION: UBER v ASLAM

The decision has today (19th February 2021) been handed down by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in the case of Uber BV and Others (Appellant) v Aslam and Others (Respondents) [1]. The issues for the Supreme Court to resolve were:


1. whether the Respondents were ‘workers’, providing personal services, and

2. if the Respondents were ‘workers’, what periods constituted ‘working time’.


Background to the Case

The Respondents were private hire vehicle drivers who provided services through the ‘Uber’ smartphone app (‘the Uber app’). The Appellant was Uber BV, a Dutch company which owns the technology behind the Uber app. Uber London Limited is a subsidiary of Uber BV and is licensed to operate private hire vehicles in London. Mr Aslam was licensed to drive private hire vehicles in London, as were the other Respondents in the appeal.


In 2016, Mr Aslam brought a case in the Employment Tribunal to establish his employment status. He claimed he was a ‘worker’ under the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1998 and was, therefore, entitled to be paid the national minimum wage for work done. He also claimed he was a ‘worker’ under the Working Time Regulations 1998, which included the right to receive paid annual leave. The definition of ‘worker’ under s230(3) of the Employment Rights Act includes someone who works under a contract


“whereby the individual undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services for another party to the contract whose status is not by virtue of the contract that of a client or customer of any profession or business undertaking carried on by the individual”.


The Employment Tribunal found in favour of Mr Aslam. Uber appealed, and the case was eventually heard by the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.


Uber argued that Mr Farrar and the other Respondents were not ‘workers’ under the test set out in s230(3) of the Employment Rights Act.


The Supreme Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom dismissed Uber’s appeal and found in favour of the Respondents. It said that Mr Farrar and the other drivers satisfied the test for being a ‘worker’ set out in s230(3). In particular, the Supreme Court said the following were important factors in reaching its decision:


1. When a ‘fare’ (or ride) is booked using the Uber app, Uber set the fare and the drivers are not allowed to charge more than the fare calculated by the app. This means that Uber decides how much a driver will be paid.


2. Uber decided the contract terms and the drivers have no input. In other words, the contracts they work under are ‘non-negotiable’.


3. Once a driver logs on to the Uber app, Uber constrains the driver’s choice about whether or not to accept a ride, which is done in several ways.


4. Uber significantly controls how the drivers do their work, including the system of rating in which passengers rate the driver from 1-5 after the journey is completed.


5. Uber restricts how much communication a driver can have with a passenger, in order to prevent a relationship developing between the driver and passenger which might go beyond just the ride booked through Uber.


Additionally, the Supreme Court found that the Respondents were entitled to holiday pay.


Some are already saying that the decision will have an impact which goes beyond Uber drivers. Scottish Trade Union Congress general secretary, Rob Foyer, said:


This ruling has enormous implications for employment law which go beyond Uber to the wider gig economy.”


[1] 2021 UKSC 5 . The full judgment can be read here:

https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2019-0029-judgment.pdf


© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2021


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