LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday the right of drivers of car rental giant Uber to enjoy workers’ rights, in a ruling that has massive implications for the “temporary work economy”.
The Supreme Court ruling that the drivers were employees came after a years-long legal battle with the Silicon Valley taxi and delivery company.
“This was an uphill, four-year legal battle for our members – but it ended in an historic victory,” said Mick Rex of the GMB Trade Union.
“The Supreme Court upheld the decision of three previous courts, in support of what GMB had said all along; he added that Uber drivers are workers and are entitled to furloughs, vacation pay and minimum wages.”
Uber said it respects the court’s ruling.
Lower courts ruled in 2016, 2017, and 2018 in favor of a group of 20 Uber drivers who argue that they deserve employee status due to the length of time they have worked through the Uber app and the way the company oversaw their work.
Uber insisted that drivers are self-employed because they choose their hours and where to work, and often find riders through competing apps.
Complainants can now seek damages from the labor court, and this could lead to further changes affecting all taxi drivers.
“GMB will now consult our Uber driver members on an upcoming compensation claim,” said Rex.
The ruling could similarly affect other internet platforms behind Britain’s so-called gig economy – people who do short-term work without formal contracts, or work without guaranteed working hours.
The messengers for Deliveroo food app are currently fighting in the London Court of Appeals for the right to collective bargaining.
Uber has claimed to have changed the way it operates since the legal proceedings began.
She added that drivers can now choose when and where to drive and can also get free health insurance in addition to parental leave compensation.
Before the court ruling, Uber pledged to increase protections for drivers while keeping them self-employed.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on Monday made a series of promises to European governments and labor unions.
The goal, he said, is to offer drivers a wage structure that is transparent and fair, and more benefits for drivers.
Uber is calling for companies in the sector to form a mutual fund that would allow drivers who work in various applications to gain access to protection and benefits such as paid vacation.
Uber plans to replicate its suggestions for the first time in California, Europe, after a US state court ordered the platform to classify tens of thousands of its drivers as employees.
But in November voters backed Proposition 22, a measure designed by Uber and other companies that would mean drivers remaining as independent contractors while receiving some benefits.
Friday’s decision is not expected to affect Uber’s right to operate in London, which has been the subject of a separate dispute.
Last September, the platform regained the right to London for an 18-month period, after a court reversed a decision by city authorities to suspend its license due to concerns about passenger security.