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Uber Drivers Win Key Employment Case In The U.K.


The ride the hailing company Uber has been fighting many fights worldwide to keep all of its drivers classified as independent contractors. Well, it lost that fight in London today. A labor tribunal says Uber drivers in the United Kingdom are workers and must be guaranteed minimum wage and get paid breaks. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: 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. Uber is downplaying this decision. A company spokesperson says it only applies to two - just two - drivers. But...

NIGEL MACKAY: I think that's not quite right.

SHAHANI: That's Nigel Mackay, who represents the drivers.

MACKAY: What the tribunal did is took two test cases, but the judgment applies to everybody, all of the people who are part of the claim.

SHAHANI: 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. Makai says the central issue is control - how much control Uber exerts over the driver.

MACKAY: Uber sets the price. The customers pay a certain price, and the drivers aren't allowed to charge any more than that.

SHAHANI: If you're self-employed, you should be able to charge whatever you want. Uber also penalizes drivers for not accepting customers and gets involved when drivers' ratings fall.

MACKAY: Uber wants to provide its service to customers in a certain way, and it requires its drivers to follow that. That's not self-employed. If you're self-employed, you get to decide how you provide a service.

SHAHANI: Uber plans to appeal the decision. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.