Uber appeals UK court case on drivers' rights

James Pheby, Agence France Presse

Posted at Sep 27 2017 10:01 PM

LONDON - Uber appealed before a British employment tribunal on Wednesday against a ruling that would give its drivers official worker status, as the company also battles against a threatened ban in London.

The landmark case brought by two Uber drivers could have far-reaching implications for people employed in Britain's "gig economy", many of whom complain about precarious working conditions and low pay.

The US ride-hailing app may have to pay its drivers the national minimum wage of £7.50 (8.5 euros, $10) an hour if it loses the case.

Uber drivers are currently paid for each ride and are considered self-employed which means they are not entitled to benefits including paid holidays.

A ruling in the case is not expected for weeks.

The Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) trade union is representing the drivers, and staged a demonstration in central London.

Yaseen Aslam, one of the claimants, said drivers "face many struggles" and "carry all the risks".

James Farrar, the other claimant, called Uber's business plan "brutally exploitative".

He called on London Mayor Sadiq Khan to make workers' rights a condition for renewing Uber's licence.

Uber responded by saying that almost all taxi and private hire drivers "have been self-employed for decades before our app existed. 

"With Uber drivers have more control and are totally free to choose if, when and where they drive with no shifts or minimum hours," it added in a statement.

"The overwhelming majority of drivers say they want to keep the freedom of being their own boss."

- International problems -

Transport authorities last week said they would not renew Uber's licence to operate in London, owing to concerns about public safety for passengers and the process of registration for drivers.

Uber, which has about 40,000 drivers and some 3.5 million customers in the British capital, has 21 days to lodge its appeal and can continue to operate until that process has concluded.

The company is having regulatory issues in several countries, and threatened on Tuesday to stop services in Canada's Quebec province in mid-October, saying proposed new ride-sharing rules aimed at leveling the field with taxis are too onerous.

Last week, the Quebec government imposed conditions that would require Uber drivers to undergo 35 hours of training -- the same as taxi drivers -- and a criminal background check by police while vehicles would also be required to undergo annual safety inspections.

Adding to its headaches in London, Uber is also facing a sex discrimination case from a 44-year-old female driver also going to an employment tribunal.

She claims that the way in which the company asked her to operate is putting her and other women at risk.

"We believe that Uber's policies do not do enough to protect female drivers," said Nigel Mackay from the law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the driver.

He said that if a driver is faced "with threat of assault by a passenger and asks him to leave, she risks complaints and low ratings, with no right of reply, and ultimately may lose her job as a result".

An Uber spokesman said: "Drivers on the Uber app are free to log in and out as they want and can choose which trips they want to take, or cancel, without any penalty.

"If a driver doesn't want to go to a particular area there is no obligation for them to do so," he said.