Uber’s five-year battle against giving its drivers basic employment protections, including minimum wage and holiday pay, has reached the Supreme Court.
The company could be forced to pay tens of millions in compensation to impacted workers, as may other firms which fail to class their drivers and couriers as employees.
The judgment will reverberate across the so-called “gig economy” when it is delivered on Wednesday, and could put Uber and other companies’ business models in the UK at risk.
Uber has consistently appealed against decisions against its employment practices after an employment tribunal found it unlawfully classed drivers as independent contractors.
Instead the tribunal found that drivers and couriers should be classed “limb (b)” workers, crucially allowing them access to holiday and sick pay, as well as collective bargaining rights.
Last year, Sir Terence Etherton, the second most senior judge in England and Wales, said in the High Court that the tribunal was “not only entitled, but correct” to class Uber drivers as workers.
At the time he said: “Not only do we see no reason to disagree with the factual conclusions of the [tribunal] as to the working relationship between Uber and the drivers, but we consider that [it] was plainly correct.”
During the course of the appeals process, the company has not implemented the tribunal’s findings – which the High Court upheld by a majority of two to one.
At the time a spokesperson for Uber told Sky News: “This decision was not unanimous and does not reflect the reasons why the vast majority of drivers choose to use the Uber app.
“We have been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court and will do so,” the company added.
The App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) has warned that if Uber was to win the case it “could result in a wide-spread collapse in worker rights across the economy with millions of people pushed permanently into precarity.”
It said it had received a letter from the Certification Office which says the ADCU could have its trade union listing revoked if Uber wins the case as its members would no longer be classified as workers.
Yaseen Aslam, the union president and lead claimant in the legal action, said: “This is our final showdown with Uber but the stakes could not be higher for everyone.
“If Uber wins, there will be an unseemly rush by greedy employers to collapse employment as we know it and Uber-ize the entire economy,” Mr Aslam said.
“Uber drivers and other gig economy workers would be robbed of the right to unionise. I trust we will prevail but the government and Uber should never have let it come to this.”