Uber, the smartphone app-based taxi provider, is facing legal action in the UK over whether it treats its drivers as employees or partners and contractors. Brought by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of the GMB union, the lawsuit claims Uber does not ensure its drivers are paid a minimum wage or receive holiday pay.
Uber claims its drivers are "partners" instead of employees. Drivers are hailed by users of the Uber smartphone app, which is also used to track journeys and process payments. Uber operates in 300 cities worldwide, including London, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Bristol and Newcastle in the UK.
According to Leigh Day, lawyers argue that Uber is in breach of employment law, but also "there are serious health and safety issues as currently Uber does not ensure its drivers take rest breaks or work a maximum number of hours per week". The lawyers argue that these working conditions pose "a substantial risk to all road users" – especially given that the company itself claims there will be 42,000 Uber drivers on London's roads by 2016, double the number of black cabs.
Furthermore, the law firm is unimpressed with reports of Uber drivers being suspended or having their accounts deactivated after making complaints about unlawful treatment, without being given an opportunity to challenge the company's actions. Leigh Day points out that no employer can remove staff for raising these issues.
Successful legal action against Uber could see "substantial payouts for drivers", Leigh Day claims These would include "compensation for past failures by the company to make appropriate payments to what lawyers argue are their workers".
Uber should take responsibility for its drivers
Nigel Mackay, a lawyer in the employment team at Leigh Day, said: "Uber not only pays the drivers but it also effectively controls how much passengers are charged and requires drivers to follow particular routes. We believe that it's clear from the way Uber operates that it owes the same responsibilities towards its drivers as any other employer does to its workers.
"In particular, its drivers should not be denied the right to minimum wage and paid leave. Uber should also take responsibility for its drivers, making sure they take regular rest breaks... If Uber wishes to operate in this way, and to reap the substantial benefits, then it must acknowledge its responsibilities towards its drivers and the public."
Uber drivers say they are not required to take breaks. Theoretically they could work 24 hours a day without the app automatically logging them out and forcing them to rest.
An Uber spokesperson said: "One of the main reasons drivers use Uber is because they love being their own boss. As employees, drivers would drive set shifts, earn a fixed hourly wage, and lose the ability to drive elsewhere as well as the personal flexibility they most value. The reality is that drivers use Uber on their own terms: they control their use of the app."