Drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam won a landmark case against the cab hiring app
Uber described the loss of its licence in London as an ‘elephant in the room’ today as it launched an appeal against a ruling on its drivers’ employment rights.
Drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam won a landmark case against the cab hiring app last year after arguing they were employees and entitled to sick pay, the minimum wage and paid holiday.
But Uber challenged the ruling, saying it could deprive drivers of the ‘personal flexibility they value’.
Today, less than a week after Transport for London said it won’t renew the firm’s licence, Dinah Rose QC, representing Uber, told an Employment Appeals Tribunal hearing in London the licence decision was not relevant to the case.
Referring to the number of reporters present, Ms Rose told Judge Jennifer Eady QC: ‘If this tribunal feels a little crowded today, it’s for good reason.
‘There are two elephants in this room – the first is the decision made by Transport for London last week.
Demonstrators protest outside the Transport for London offices in the capital today, after the decision by TfL last week not to renew Uber’s licence
‘Uber has made a public statement in that decision. It’s not relevant to this appeal and I don’t propose to address it any further today.’
She added: ‘Second is the national debate of the so-called gig economy and the tendency in that debate to lump Uber together with a variety of other platforms and businesses, including those which operate in a different way to Uber.
‘The task of this tribunal is not to participate in that debate.
‘This tribunal’s task is to apply well-established principles of law to the particular facts of this case and determine if the judge reached a decision which no reasonable tribunal should have made.’
She added: ‘The function of this tribunal has a public importance which goes beyond the task of the individual parties that appear before us.’
Uber drivers are currently paid for each ride and are considered self-employed which means they are not entitled to benefits including paid holidays
Ms Rose said drivers who use the Uber app are under no obligation to work and never have been.
She said the app acts as an agent and is a ‘very powerful piece of technology’ which gives them access to passengers in return for a cut of the fare.
‘Potential drivers or users are under no obligation at all to use it and if they don’t use it they don’t have to pay Uber anything at all,’ she added.
She argued that Uber operates the same ‘business model’ as local taxi firms with self-employed drivers but by using technology it does so on a ‘much larger scale’.
Uber drivers are currently paid for each ride and are considered self-employed which means they are not entitled to benefits including paid holidays.
A ruling in the case is not expected for weeks.
The Green Party’s Caroline Russell with Mr Farrar (second left) listens to Yaseen Aslam (second right) as he speaks outside Transport for London’s offices in the centre of the capital
The Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) trade union is representing the drivers, and staged a demonstration in Central London.
Mr Aslam said drivers ‘face many struggles’ and ‘carry all the risks’, while Mr Farrar called Uber’s business plan ‘brutally exploitative’.
He called on London Mayor Sadiq Khan to make workers’ rights a condition for renewing Uber’s licence.
Transport authorities last week said they would not renew Uber’s licence to operate in the capital, owing to concerns about public safety for passengers and the process of registration for drivers.
Uber, which has about 40,000 drivers and some 3.5 million customers in the British capital, has 21 days to lodge its appeal and can continue to operate until that process has concluded.
Adding to its headaches in London, Uber is also facing a sex discrimination case from a 44-year-old female driver also going to an employment tribunal.
The Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) trade union is representing the drivers, and staged the demonstration in Central London
She claims that the way in which the company asked her to operate is putting her and other women at risk.
‘We believe that Uber’s policies do not do enough to protect female drivers,’ said Nigel Mackay from the law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the driver.
He said that if a driver is faced ‘with threat of assault by a passenger and asks him to leave, she risks complaints and low ratings, with no right of reply, and ultimately may lose her job as a result’.
An Uber spokesman said: ‘Drivers on the Uber app are free to log in and out as they want and can choose which trips they want to take, or cancel, without any penalty.
‘If a driver doesn’t want to go to a particular area there is no obligation for them to do so,’ he said.