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Uber Loses Appeal In U.K. As Tribunal Reiterates That Drivers Are Workers

A man holds a smartphone showing the Uber app in London. In September, London transport authorities announced they would not renew Uber's license to operate in the city for safety reasons; on Friday, Uber lost an appeal of a British tribunal decision that its drivers are workers who deserve legal protections.MoreCloseclosemore
A man holds a smartphone showing the Uber app in London. In September, London transport authorities announced they would not renew Uber's license to operate in the city for safety reasons; on Friday, Uber lost an appeal of a British tribunal decision that its drivers are workers who deserve legal protections.

Uber has encountered another setback in the U.K., as a tribunal told the ride-hailing giant — once again — that drivers are workers entitled to protections like time off, regular breaks and a guaranteed minimum wage.

An employment tribunal ruled in favor of the drivers more than a year ago, but Uber appealed. The company lost its appeal on Friday.

Uber plans to appeal the decision once again.

NPR's Aarti Shahani reported on the original ruling back in 2016:

"Leave it to the Brits to write a wry, literary decision with some Shakespeare. The judge writes, 'we have been struck by the remarkable lengths' Uber has gone to sell its version of the story about just being a middleman between drivers and passengers. Uber has resorted to 'fictions,' 'twisted language,' so much so that the judge is reminded of that line from Hamlet — 'The lady doth protest too much, methinks.' It's a line that basically means the more the lady — or Uber, in this case — protests, the less we believe the protester.

"Under the ground-breaking legal decision, Uber has to give benefits to drivers who are neither independent contractors nor employees but who fall into a third category called simply workers.

"In the U.S., state-level labor bodies have made decisions about individual Uber drivers being entitled to benefits. Those decisions don't set a precedent. In this case, the decision could apply to all 40,000 people who drive for the company in the U.K."

Yaseen Aslam is one of the drivers in the original case. After Friday's Employment Appeal Tribunal decision, he said, "I am glad that the judge today confirmed what I and thousands of drivers have known all along: that Uber is not only exploiting drivers, but also acting unlawfully," The Guardian reports.

James Farrar, the other driver named in the lawsuit, told the BBC he felt "huge relief."

"I really hope it will stick this time and that Uber will obey the ruling of the court," he said.

The dispute between Uber and its drivers centers on how much control the drivers have over their own "business." Drivers point out that Uber controls prices, penalizes drivers who decline too many trips in a row and sends a variety of instructions to drivers. The company says drivers control their own schedules and can ignore trips they don't want to take.

In a statement sent to NPR, Tom Elvidge, the acting general manager of Uber U.K, said the ride-hailing app offers drivers more independence than the tribunal decisions reflect.

"Almost all taxi and private hire drivers have been self-employed for decades, long before our app existed," Elvdige said. "The main reason why drivers use Uber is because they value the freedom to choose if, when and where they drive and so we intend to appeal.

"The tribunal relies on the assertion that drivers are required to take 80% of trips sent to them when logged into the app. As drivers who use Uber know, this has never been the case in the U.K."

The 80 percent number appears once in the original tribunal decision, quoting from an Uber document, along with other examples of how drivers are warned against rejected too many trips.

"Over the last year we have made a number of changes to our app to give drivers even more control," Elvidge says. "We've also invested in things like access to illness and injury cover."

Meanwhile, Uber has lost its license to operate in London based on concerns over safety, including the strength of Uber's background checks. The company has appealed, and customers can continue to use the service while the appeal is underway.

Copyright NPR 2017.

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