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Supreme Court’s Uber Ruling on Workers’ Rights Could Have Huge Ramifications for Food Delivery

It enshrines the rights of Uber drivers as workers, something riders for the likes of Deliveroo have struggled to attain in the past

An Uber Eats bike courier rides around London with a branded rucksack
The ruling on Uber drivers will put pressure on its food delivery competitors
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Is this the start of the end of the gig economy?

The Supreme Court’s ruling that Uber drivers are workers and not self-employed could cost the ride-hailing/food delivery giant hundreds of millions — and start the reshaping of a gig economy that is overwhelmingly skewed against workers’ rights.

This is the culmination of a near five-year process started by drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, who won an employment tribunal in October 2016 on the basis that they were workers, and therefore entitled to workers’ rights, including minimum wage and holiday. Uber — like fellow food delivery giant Deliveroo — used the defence that its workers are “self-employed contractors.” Deliveroo’s language is “self-employed.”

Uber then spent five years appealing against that initial tribunal in the Employment Appeal Tribunal; the Court of Appeal; and finally the Supreme Court, losing on each occasion. Each court determined that because Uber sets fares, contract terms, and other parameters, drivers can only earn more money by working longer hours, putting them in a “position of subordination.” While Uber referred to the “small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016” in its statement on the ruling, its precedents look set to entitle thousands of workers to compensation.

The ruling comes as the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) appeals against a 2018 High Court ruling that prevents Deliveroo riders from collective bargaining, because it classes them as “self-employed.” It’s not yet clear whether this ruling will directly spur preemptive moves from Uber’s competitors, or whether it will set a precedent for the IWGB appeal and millions of others couriers and drivers. But it is a significant stake in the ground for workers in a gig economy which, when it’s working as designed, disenfranchises them more than anybody else taking part. [BBC]

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