By Costas Pitas
LONDON (Reuters) – Uber will defend its business model at a British employment tribunal on Wednesday arguing its drivers are self-employed and work the same way as those at long-established local taxi firms, according to a court document.
The U.S. firm is appealing against a tribunal ruling last year that it should treat two of its drivers as workers, which would entitle them to the minimum wage and paid holidays.
That verdict could affect thousands of firms in Britain in the so-called gig economy where people work for various employers at the same time without fixed contracts, giving both sides more flexibility.
Such practices have been criticized by some unions and workers as exploitative and the Silicon Valley giant will try to distance itself in its appeal from being branded a gig economy company.
The hearing comes five days after London’s transport regulator stripped Uber of its license, judging the company unfit to run a taxi service because of its approach to reporting serious crimes and background checks.
Uber will be allowed to operate in London until the license appeal process is exhausted, which could take several months.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal case kicking off on Wednesday will look to place Uber’s business model within the definitions used in Britain to categorize the relationship between companies and people that work for them.
The self-employed are only entitled to basic rights in the workplace, such as healthy and safety. Those deemed to be workers also receive the minimum wage, paid holidays and rest breaks, among other benefits. Those in a third category, called employees, receive those entitlements as well as other perks such as statutory sick pay and maternity or paternity leave.
According to the documents, Uber will argue its drivers are not workers but rather that its app acts as an agent hooking up self-employed drivers with clients, in a kind of relationship that existed long before the “gig economy”.
“The tribunal will be aware of the public, press and political attention recently attracted by concerns over the ‘gig economy’,” Uber will say according to an outline of their argument seen by Reuters.
“In fact … the position of drivers who use the app is materially identical to the (familiar and long-established) position of self-employed private hire drivers who operate under the auspices of traditional minicab firms.”
Minicabs, or private hire vehicles, sprung up in Britain more than 50 years ago. Minicabs cannot be hailed in the street like traditional taxis, but can be booked for specific times and places via a registered office with a call or via the internet.
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which is representing the two Uber drivers, argues they should be treated as workers, entitling them to minimum pay of at least 7.50 pounds ($10) per hour for those over 25.
Last year, the two drivers successfully argued that Uber exerted significant control over them to provide an on-demand taxi service and the firm therefore had responsibilities in terms of workers’ rights.
The case will be heard on Wednesday and Thursday with a verdict unlikely to be given immediately.
(Reporting by Costas Pitas; editing by David Clarke)