What does the Uber case mean for the wider gig economy?

A ruling in the Supreme Court on 19 February 2021 established once and for all that in the UK, drivers that work for Uber are classed as ‘workers’ and are not therefore self-employed individuals.  Following this, Uber announced in March that they will pay drivers in the UK at least the national living wage, which from 1 April 2021 is £8.91 an hour and extended to those over 23 (previously 25 yrs). Drivers in the UK will also be entitled to minimum employment rights including time off and pension contributions.

The case between Uber and its ‘workers’ has been rumbling on for a number of years, having begun in 2016. Amongst the many nuanced arguments, the case between Uber BV and Others v Aslam looked at the ways in which Uber utilises its workforce, and therefore the way in which they should be classified within the eyes of the law.

But what implications does the ruling, and Uber’s subsequent announcement regarding the pay and benefits of their workers mean for others in the so-called ‘gig economy’?

Firstly, it has to be said that the case between Uber and its drivers has not yet been fully resolved, with drivers still arguing that the taxi app needs to go further in their pay commitment. The company has agreed to pay its drivers the minimum wage per hour for the hours when fares have been booked, but not for the time outside of this – ie. when drivers have their app on but are not actually on a booked journey. This is despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled that drivers should be entitled to minimum wage throughout the time they have their app on.

For other companies employing workers on a ‘gig’ basis, the Uber case clearly sets a precedent for the legalities of utilising workers in this way.  Where companies have not been paying a minimum hourly rate, instead paying its staff (however casual) ‘per job’ that may not equate to the National Minimum Wage, taking pre-emptive action to review the pay and treatment of those that undertake work on their behalf should be a priority.

The Uber case raises some interesting points for employment law as a whole – including the issue of employment status. The Supreme Court’s ruling has created some clarity on how the law deems the workers of different statuses and the relationship between this status and the obligations of their employers to adhere to a minimum set of employment rights.

However, in a world where flexibility of working arrangements is becoming an increasing desire for those seeking work, it could be that we see more cases that centre around how workers are classified come to the fore.