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Drivers’ union to take on the might of Uber over worker’s rights

Embattled taxi-app firm asserts drivers are 'partners' and not entitled to employment rights in the UK

30 July 2015

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The union for professional drivers has instructed Leigh Day to bring an action against the international transportation network Uber on grounds it is breaching a duty to provide drivers with basic employment rights.

Uber, which operates a car hire platform that connects passengers to thousands of drivers with passengers through a smartphone app, has already been subject to several high-profile legal challenges across the globe, including in France, Thailand, and India.

In the latest challenge, the GMB union is to argue that the Silicon Valley company does not provide its drivers in the UK with basic rights on pay, holidays, health and safety, and on discipline and grievances.

Steve Garelick, branch secretary of the GMB Professional Drivers Branch, said: 'The need for a union to defend working drivers' rights has become an imperative. Operators like Uber must understand that they have an ethical and social policy that matches societies' expectations of fair and honest treatment.'

Nigel Mackay, a solicitor in the employment team at Leigh Day, explained that contrary to the union's argument that Uber's drivers are employees, the taxi-booking service is asserting such individuals are 'partners' and, therefore, are not entitled to the rights normally afforded to workers.

'Uber not only pays the drivers but it also effectively controls how much passengers are charged and requires drivers to follow particular routes,' said Mackay. 'As well as this, it uses a ratings system to assess drivers' performance.

'We believe that it's clear from the way Uber operates that it owes the same responsibilities towards its drivers as any other employer does to its workers. In particular, its drivers should not be denied the right to minimum wage and paid leave.'

Mackay added that Uber should take responsibility for its drivers: 'If Uber wishes to operate in this way, and to reap the substantial benefits, then it must acknowledge its responsibilities towards its drivers and the public.'

Tim Spillane, head of employment law at Stewarts Law, said he was not surprised the GMB were bringing this case and warned that a decision in favour of the union could cost the taxi-app firm a substantial sum. He added, however, that determining the employment status of an individual is not always straightforward.

'The degree to which the GMB are able to successfully argue that Uber drivers fall under that definition will require a close look at the factual make-up of the service that the drivers provide,' he observed.

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