Uber Says Its UK Drivers Are ‘Workers,’ but Not Employees

www.wired.com

FOR YEARS, UBER has deployed lobbyists to world capitals to protect its business model. Its lawyers have argued that Uber drivers are independent contractors, using a service that connects them with people who need rides. Uber? It’s just a tech company matching customers with business people.

For a long time, that argument worked. Now, following a UK Supreme Court decision, Uber has shifted, saying it will treat its UK drivers as workers. That unusual employment category—used in the UK—entitles drivers to minimum wage guarantees after expenses, paid holidays, and pension contributions, but drivers will not be employees. Just a few weeks ago, Uber had insisted that the case only applied to a handful of workers. The new policy will not apply to workers for Uber Eats, the company’s growing delivery service.

“It’s a pretty significant U-turn, not only on Uber’s stance in the past decade but its stance since the Supreme Court judgment,” says Paul Jennings, an employment and discrimination lawyer with the firm Bates Wells, which represented a group of Uber drivers in the case that made it to the Supreme Court. The UK is responsible for 6.4 percent of the company’s ride-hailing business. Following the news, Uber shares were down by 4 percent on Wednesday afternoon.

But Uber’s announcement is far from a clean win for drivers, and will likely prompt more legal wrangling, in the UK and elsewhere. It also shows how Uber increasingly is pushing for recognition of a “third category” of work, providing gig workers with some traditional employment protections, but falling well below those provided to employees.

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