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Uber drivers entitled to UK minimum wage, London tribunal rules

Say hello to more cash, drivers – and goodbye to your bottom line, Uber

Two Uber drivers who had taken the taxi app to an employment tribunal successfully argued that UK minimum wage laws apply to Uber's British drivers, as part of a larger ongoing case against the company.

The Employment Tribunal judge, A M Snelson, found that Uber's UK drivers are performing "unmeasured work", as defined by National Minimum Wage Regulation 45.

This means that Uber's previous position, that its drivers were self-employed and therefore not entitled to anything other than their 75 per cent share of passengers' fares, has been overturned and the company must now pay them the British minimum wage.

Before the tribunal, the drivers' lawyer, Thomas Linden QC, argued that the written terms between drivers and Uber "should be read sceptically", with the judge summarising his argument on that point by saying that "they do not properly reflect their relationship. On the contrary, they are designed to misrepresent it” by making it appear as if Uber worked for the drivers, rather than the other way round.

Appearing for Uber, David Reade QC argued that the terms were valid "and fairly define [Uber]'s relationship with the claimants" and said that because the terms were agreed under Dutch law, the tribunal should not consider whether British laws (as opposed to wider EU minimum pay regulations) applied.

Uber had argued that the agreement between it and its UK drivers was governed by Dutch law, but the EU's Rome I Regulations 2008 – still in force in the UK until at least 2019 – allowed the drivers to successfully argue that British law should be applied instead.

Judge Snelson handed down his verdict in the preliminary hearing of Aslam, Farrar and others v Uber BV, Uber London Ltd and Uber Britannia Ltd this afternoon. He was utterly scathing as he summed up Uber's operations and attempts to avoid liability for paying its drivers the minimum wage.

Any organisation (a) running an enterprise at the heart of which is the function of carrying people in motor cars from where they are to where they want to be and (b) operating in part through a company discharging the regulated responsibilities of a [private hire vehicle] operator, but (c) requiring drivers and passengers to agree, as a matter of contract, that it does not provide transportation services (through UBV [Uber's Dutch holding company] or Uber London Limited, and (d) resorting in its documentation to fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology, merits, we think, a degree of scepticism... We cannot help being reminded of Queen Gertrude's most celebrated line: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

One of the fictions he referred to was the Uber passenger invoice, "which is not an invoice and not sent to the passenger", while the twisted language was said by the judge to include contract terms that were so warped that Uber, by its own rules, had become a "client or customer of 'Customer'” – 'Customer' being what Uber's terms and conditions uses to describe its drivers. ®

Uber has the option to appeal against the tribunal's judgment. ®

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