On 10th November 2017, the UK Employment Appeal Tribunal delivered its judgment in Uber & Ors v Aslam & Ors [PDF]. The decision will be of interest to agencies and workers operating in the “Gig economy. Here is a brief summary.
Members of the Uber Group had appealed from an earlier decision of the Employment Tribunal, which found that Uber drivers in London were “workers” within the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996, the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the National Minimum Wage Act 1998; and that any Uber driver who had the Uber app switched on, was within the territory in which they were authorised to work (London) and was able and willing to accept assignments was working for Uber London Ltd.
A key ground in Uber’s appeal was that the Employment Tribunal had mischaracterised the true relationship between Uber and its drivers – that rather than being one of employment, it was one of agency in accordance with which Uber provided booking services as agent for its drivers.
Uber pointed to provisions in its suite of contracts and terms of businesss, which it contended supported its view.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal disagreed and dismissed Uber’s appeal. At the time of writing it is understood that Uber intends to take a further appeal to the UK Supreme Court.
In the meantime, there are a few quick points that can be made about the EAT decision.
- It is the reality of the situation that matters. The Appeal Tribunal said:
[The Employment Tribunal] was entitled to disregard the terms in the written agreements and the labels used therein.
…the true agreement between the parties was not one in which [Uber London Ltd] acted as the drivers’ agent.
- Control still matters. The Appeal Tribunal said:
The [Employment Tribunal]…was entitled to look at all factors to determine whether this was a case in which the … Uber drivers were entering into contracts with passengers as part of their own business undertakings. Seeing that they were subjected to control on the part of [Uber London Ltd] was an indication that they were not.
- These matters will continue to be decided on a case by case basis. The Appeal Tribunal said:
Inevitably the assessment [the ET] had carried out was fact-and context-specific.
It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court makes of this.
Whilst, it would seem possible, in theory, to construct an agency relationship of the type which Uber contended for in this case, one might wonder whether Uber would have done better to construct the agency and booking service between it and the riders, rather than between Uber and the drivers.
It could also be important to recognise that this might not really be a case, where the Employment Appeal Tribunal said that the written documentation doesn’t matter … it’s perhaps more a case of making sure that the written documentation gets it right – i.e. that it reflects the true relationship between the parties.
Andrew C. Wood