Uber drivers are entitled to worker rights, UK's top court rules

This comes after a London employment tribunal ruled in 2016 that two Uber drivers who were presenting a case were due entitlements such as paid holidays and rest breaks. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - A group of Uber drivers are entitled to worker rights such as the minimum wage, Britain's Supreme Court decided on Friday (Feb 19) in a blow to the ride-hailing service that could have ramifications for millions of others in the gig economy.

In a case led by two drivers, a London employment tribunal ruled in 2016 that they were due entitlements such as paid holidays and rest breaks.

Uber drivers are currently treated as self-employed, meaning that by law they are afforded only minimal protections, a status the Silicon Valley-based company sought to maintain through continued court action.

"The Supreme Court unanimously dismisses Uber's appeal," Judge George Leggatt said on Friday.

"The legislation is intended to give certain protections to vulnerable individuals who have little or no say over their pay and working conditions."

Uber said the verdict did not apply to all of its current 60,000 drivers in Britain, including 45,000 in London, one of its most important global markets.

"We respect the court's decision which focused on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016," said its Northern and Eastern Europe boss Jamie Heywood.

"We are committed to doing more and will now consult with every active driver across the UK to understand the changes they want to see."

The gig economy, where people tend to work for one or more companies on a job-by-job basis, has faced criticism from unions who say it is exploitative, while businesses say many of those working in this enjoy the flexibility.

It could still take several months for the details of Friday's decision to be worked out if a further employment tribunal hearing is needed to sort through practicalities over sums owed to drivers.

Law firm Leigh Day says eligible drivers could be entitled to an average of £12,000 (S$22,230) in compensation.

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