John Szepietowski Reviews the Supreme Court ruling in favour of Uber Drivers

The case of Uber BV and others (Appeallants) v Aslam and Others (Respondents) [2021] UKSC 5

On the 19 February 2021 after a six-year legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled that Uber must classify its drivers as workers rather than self-employed.

The decision means tens of thousands of Uber drivers are set to be entitled to minimum wage and holiday pay. The ruling could leave Uber facing a large compensation bill and have wider facing consequences for the gig economy.

This decision comes after the Employment Tribunal and later the Court of Appeal found that Uber Drivers were not self-employed contractors, but were workers under the Employment Rights Act 1996. However, on 21st July 2020, Uber appealed this decision and sought to overturn the December 2018 High Court ruling and later, the Court of Appeal ruling.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

In the Supreme Court’s judgment, consideration was given to the case of Autoclenz Ltd v Belcher [2011] UKSC 41; [2011] ICR 1157l, whereby the claimants worked as “valeters” performing car cleaning services which the company (Autoclenz) had contracted to provide to third parties. In order to obtain the work, the claimants were required to sign written contracts which stated that they were subcontractors and not employees of Autoclenz. In this case, the employment tribunal held that the claimants came within both limbs of the definition of a “worker” and appeals by Autoclenz were dismissed at every level including the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court took the notion, as in the Autoclenz case, that the true agreement will often have to be gleaned from all circumstances of the case, a written agreement will only constitute part of this. This was found in the case of Carmichael v National Power plc [1999] 1 WLR 2042, whereby there was no formal written agreement. The Carmichael case concerned tour guides engaged to act “on a casual as required basis”. The guides later claimed to be employees and therefore entitled by statute to a written statement of their terms of employment. Their case was that an exchange of correspondence between the parties in March 1989 constituted a contract, which was to be classified as a contract of employment.

Working Time

For the purpose of the Working Time Regulations 1998, “working time” is defined in regulation 2(1), in relation to a worker, as “any period during which he is working, at his employer’s disposal and carrying out his activity or duties”. On this basis, the Supreme Court declared that Uber drivers were “workers” from the time they log on to the app, until they log off.

Minimum Wage

What counts as working time for the purposes of the right to be paid the national minimum wage is defined by the National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015. These regulations contain complex provisions for measuring hours worked depending on how the work is classified. The Supreme Court took a broad viewpoint of this and concurred with the Employment Tribunal’s decision, believing that the claimants’ working hours were not “time work”, but “unmeasured work” as the Employment Tribunal held. With this in mind, the Supreme Court declared that there was no basis for interfering with the employment tribunal’s decision.

The result of the Supreme Court Uber case will be welcomed by Uber drivers across the country, in addition, a feeling of relief that a 6-year legal battle has finally concluded, as the Supreme Court decision is binding on all parties and marks a final decision.

If you desire further information on this topic or on any other various legal matters, please contact John Szepietowski at Audley Chaucer Solicitors on 01372303444 or email us at or visit our Linkedin page.

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