A British panel is set to rule Friday on whether Uber drivers are employees of the ride-hailing service, in a case with broad implications for the so-called gig economy. Lead claimants Yaseen Aslam and James Farrer are seeking minimum wage and paid holiday in line with U.K. employment law. Uber argues its drivers are independent contractors who would lose the ”personal flexibility they value” if the suit is successful. The case before the British employment appeals tribunal comes after San Francisco-based Uber appealed a previous ruling in favor of the drivers. The case affects as many as 30,000 Uber drivers, but it also has implications for more than 100,000 independent contractors in Britain’s so-called gig economy, where people work job-to-job with little security and few employment rights. Such employment, often for companies that use mobile phone apps to provide everything from food delivery to health care, has surged as the Internet cuts the link between jobs and the traditional workplace.
While the case is separate from London’s decision not to renew Uber’s license, observers are likely to watch Uber’s response to see if a company known for hard-hitting tactics is willing to change. Following the licensing decision, new CEO Dara Khosorwshahi acknowledged that Uber “got things wrong” as it expanded around the world and said the company would change as it moves forward. Uber is also appealing that decision. The case is just one of many focused on the rights of British workers in both the new and old economies – from Deliveroo food delivery drivers to foster carers and plumbers. A debate has emerged about the balance between encouraging innovation and protecting the individual, said Sean Nesbitt, a labor expert at the law firm Taylor Wessing.
“The case is likely to go to the Supreme Court whoever wins,” he said. “There is too much at stake for the government, business, unions and increasing number of workers in the gig economy for (Friday’s) decision to be the end of the road.”