The definition of a “worker” in section 230(3) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and other relevant legislation includes anyone employed under a contract of employment but also extends to some individuals who are self-employed. In particular, the definition includes an individual 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 judgment emphasises five aspects of the findings made by the employment tribunal which justified its conclusion that the claimants were working for and under contracts with Uber.
First, where a ride is booked through the Uber app, it is Uber that sets the fare and drivers are not permitted to charge more than the fare calculated by the Uber app. It is therefore Uber which dictates how much drivers are paid for the work they do;
Second, the contract terms on which drivers perform their services are imposed by Uber and drivers have no say in them
Third, once a driver has logged onto the Uber app, the driver’s choice about whether to accept requests for rides is constrained by Uber. One way in which this is done is by monitoring the driver’s rate of acceptance (and cancellation) of trip requests and imposing what amounts to a penalty if too many trip requests are declined or cancelled by automatically logging the driver off the Uber app for ten minutes, thereby preventing the driver from working until allowed to log back on.
Fourth, Uber also exercises significant control over the way in which drivers deliver their services. One of several methods mentioned in the judgment is the use of a ratings system whereby passengers are asked to rate the driver on a scale of 1 to 5 after each trip. Any driver who fails to maintain a required average rating will receive a series of warnings and, if their average rating does not improve, eventually have their relationship with Uber terminated.
A fifth significant factor is that Uber restricts communications between passenger and driver to the minimum necessary to perform the particular trip and takes active steps to prevent drivers from establishing any relationship with a passenger capable of extending beyond an individual ride.
Taking these factors together, the transportation service performed by drivers and offered to passengers through the Uber app is very tightly defined and controlled by Uber. Drivers are in a position of subordination and dependency in relation to Uber such that they have little or no ability to improve their economic position through professional or entrepreneurial skill. In practice the only way in which they can increase their earnings is by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance. The Supreme Court considers that comparisons made by Uber with digital platforms which act as booking agents for hotels and other accommodation and with minicab drivers do not advance its case. The drivers were rightly found to be “workers”.
When are the drivers “working”for Uber?
The Supreme Court also holds that the employment tribunal was entitled to find that time spent by the claimants working for Uber was not limited (as Uber argued) to periods when they were actually driving passengers to their destinations, but included any period when the driver was logged into the Uber app within the territory in which the driver was licensed to operate and was ready and willing to accept trips.