Government must back Uber drivers after court ruling, Labour tells ministers

Elliot Chappell
© Lutsenko_Oleksandr/Shutterstock.com

Andy McDonald has called on the government to legislate after a Supreme Court ruling found against the “bogus claim” that its drivers are not employees in a case he described as a “landmark victory for working people”.

Addressing parliament today after tabling an urgent question, the Shadow Employment Rights’ Secretary warned that the company is attempting to “dodge” the court ruling by interpreting it as only affecting a small number of its drivers.

He argued that if Uber ignores the decision, thousands of low-paid workers will be forced to “spend time and money they can ill afford to litigate to recover withheld wages in cases they will most likely win but will take years to conclude”.

“The government shouldn’t abandon working people to fight for their rights in the courts,” he added. “So, will the minister take the opportunity to make clear the ruling applies to all Uber drivers and that the company cannot continue to cheat its workers out of their basic rights?”

The Shadow Employment Rights’ Secretary also made a wider call for the government minister to commit now to bringin forward new legislation to “end bogus self-employment and provide security to all gig-economy workers”.

As workers categorised as self-employed, Uber drivers are unable to claim entitlements afforded to those with employee status, including sick pay, the minimum wage and holiday pay.

Minister Paul Scully said in response that, in terms of clarifying employment status and rights the government is “committed to continue to look at workers and workers’ rights” but refused to back the Uber drivers in the case.

“If there is a dispute between the individual and employers, as seen in the recent case involving Uber, the courts consider each case on an individual basis,” he said. “The courts are independent and the government does not intervene.”

In response to the judgement, Uber’s general manager for northern and Eastern Europe told drivers that a “small number of drivers from 2016 can be classified as workers, but this judgment does not apply to drivers who earn on the app today”.

Litigating for rights to which employees are entitled can take years. The company’s claim over the extent of the application of the decision means that around 40,000 drivers would likely need to go to employment tribunals.

Leigh Day lawyer Nigel McKay argued “there is no way they can say ‘this doesn’t apply’ with confidence”. The firm believes that Uber drivers are due approximately £12,000 in compensation each, which would cost the company more than £26m.

Lead claimants in the Uber case have called on London mayor Sadiq Khan in an open letter to insist that Uber comply with the Supreme Court ruling as a condition of its continued Transport for London license to operate in the capital.

The urgent question from McDonald was the second of two tabled by Labour today. Rachel Reeves used one earlier this afternoon to challenge the government over public procurement after a court ruled Matt Hancock had acted unlawfully.

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