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'Landmark' Victory as UK Supreme Court Rules Uber Drivers Are Workers Entitled to Minimum Wage, Benefits

"This has been a grueling four-year legal battle for our members—but it's ended in a historic win."

Uber driver Yasar Gorur wears personal protective equipment while cleaning his vehicle on April 14, 2020 in London.

Uber driver Yasar Gorur wears personal protective equipment while cleaning his vehicle on April 14, 2020 in London. (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

The United Kingdom's highest court delivered a major win for gig laborers Friday morning by ruling that a group of more than two dozen Uber drivers must be classified as workers—not self-employed independent contractors—and granted rights such as a minimum wage and certain benefits.

While the decision will initially only impact the 25 drivers who brought the case against Uber—which repeatedly appealed earlier lower-court decisions over a four-year period—the U.K. Supreme Court's ruling Friday sets a precedent that could lead to broader victories for gig workers.

"Uber must now stop wasting time and money pursuing lost legal causes and do what's right by the drivers who prop up its empire."
—Mick Rix, GMB Union

Lawyers representing GMB Union, a U.K. labor organization that helped the Uber drivers bring their case, said in a statement Friday that tens of thousands of Uber drivers could be entitled to an average of £12,000 [or $17,000] each in compensation" thanks to Friday's ruling.

"This has been a grueling four-year legal battle for our members—but it's ended in a historic win," said GMB national officer Mick Rix. "The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of three previous courts, backing up what GMB has said all along; Uber drivers are workers and entitled to breaks, holiday pay, and a minimum wage."

"Uber must now stop wasting time and money pursuing lost legal causes and do what's right by the drivers who prop up its empire," Rix added. "GMB will now consult with our Uber driver members over their forthcoming compensation claim."

Uber, a San Francisco based corporation, insisted in a statement that the ruling would not require it to reclassify all of its drivers as legally-protected workers.

"Today we learned that our case was not successful and this group of drivers from 2016 should have been classified as workers. The verdict does not focus on the other drivers on the app, nor does it relate to couriers who earn on Uber Eats," the company said. "Worker is a U.K. specific legal classification and a worker is not an employee. Employee status was not claimed in the litigation and so this ruling does not find the claimants to be employees."

In its ruling Friday, the U.K. Supreme Court agreed with the Uber driver's case that they "are in a position of subordination and dependency in relation to Uber such that they have little or no ability to improve their economic position through professional or entrepreneurial skill."

"In practice," the court said, "the only way in which they can increase their earnings is by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber's measures of performance."

As The Verge reported Friday, the high court's decision—which affirms three lower-court rulings dating back to 2016—"could have a significant impact on the U.K.'s estimated 4.7 million gig economy workers, affecting not just tech giants like Uber and food delivery firm Deliveroo, but also less well known companies like couriers CitySprint and plumbing outfit Pimlico Plumbers."

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