Uber, which has been fending off an employee misclassification suit on its home turf in the U.S. for the last few months, is expected to be served with a practically identical claim by the U.K.'s Employment Tribunal in the coming weeks.
James Farrar, Yaseen Aslam, Rehan Mithu, and Terry Hoy, represented by employment and discrimination lawyer Nigel Mackay of Leigh Day law firm, filed a claim to the Employment Tribunal last Wednesday alleging that the ride-hail company misclassified them as independent contractors. The drivers' primary argument is that Uber exerts control over how they perform their rides all the way down to the routes that they should take — a right that is legally reserved for an employer.
"Uber controls the way the driver carries out the journey," Mackay told BuzzFeed News. "It also sanctions drivers who don’t pick up particular customers over a period, it says the route the driver should follow, it takes pay from customers to give to the drivers and then it decides whether to make deductions from that pay. There are lots of different ways in which it acts not really as a partner but as an employer of the driver."
But unlike the drivers suing the company in the U.S., these drivers aren't ultimately seeking to be considered employees, they want to be granted "worker status" — a third employment classification in the U.K. that sits somewhere in between "self-employed" and "employed." "Worker status" guarantees workers basic rights such as the right to the national minimum wage, the right to paid holidays and limits on night work, the right "to protection against unauthorised deductions from pay," the right to maternity, paternity and adoption pay (but not leave), and the right to protection against the mistreatment of whistleblowers, among other core rights.
"Uber says drivers enjoy the flexibility they are afforded on the platform," Mackay said. "This is not going to stop them from having flexibility, it's just going to get them basic rights. Lots of the drivers that we talked to do enjoy the flexibility of the job and working when they want to work. We’re not saying that they need to have fixed hours or anything like that."
The drivers are instead seeking to be guaranteed a minimum hourly wage and holiday pay going forward and to be reimbursed for the wages that they lost out on looking backward.
"Uber pays the drivers based on journey itself," Mackay said. "For all of the time they’re waiting for rides, they’re working for Uber. They should be paid for that whole time, so they have that safety net in receiving the minimum wage in terms of minimum pay per hour...taking into account the fare of each ride, and the expenditure and cost of vehicle, and licensing, and so on that’s part of the job that they have to pay for."
Two of the four claimants were deactivated allegedly for aiding in bringing both the company's and the media's attention to a loophole in the backend of Uber that made it easy for drivers to operate using false insurance documents — an act that would be protected if drivers were considered "workers" and not self-employed. So Mackay is also claiming that Uber wrongfully terminated two of his clients including Yaseen Aslam, who had been driving for Uber for two years before the company deactivated him this past June. "Most drivers are immigrant [sic]," Aslam told BuzzFeed News. "They come from hardworking families and have to provide for their families back home. These drivers are also unaware of their rights and don't want to get into any trouble. So they put up with it. If it mean [sic] working longer for little pay they will. If I win this case the drivers will then be protected."
Mackay also plans on parlaying this claim into a group claim akin to what is known as a class action lawsuit in the U.S., and has already been speaking to additional drivers. "We are aiming to file the next group of claims in the next couple of weeks, also at the employment tribunal, and we will ask that their claims are joined to the first four," he said.
Though the company did not comment on whether the Employment Tribunal delivered the claim, an Uber spokesperson did once again tout the flexibility that the platform provides. "The main reason thousands of professional drivers choose to partner with Uber is so they can become their own boss, pick their own hours and work completely flexibly," a company spokesperson wrote to BuzzFeed News. "In fact many partner-drivers have left other lines of work and chosen to partner with Uber for this very reason. Two thirds of new partner-drivers joining the Uber platform have been referred by another partner because they love the freedom and flexibility the service provides."
According to Mackay, now that he has submitted the claim on behalf of his clients to the Employment Tribunal, the Tribunal has to deliver it to Uber, which then must respond in the next month or so. Mackay expects the case won't be heard in front of a judge until sometime next year.