Uber today said its relations with drivers using its app “were not novel or unusual” as it appealed a landmark ruling to provide two men who used the platform rights as workers.
The global taxi tech firm’s QC Dinah Rose told the first day of a two-day hearing in central London that the “elephants in the room”, of both the broader so-called “gig economy” and the shock decision last week by Transport for London to revoke Uber’s licence, should be “acknowledged then politely shown the door”.
On Friday, TfL said Uber was not a “fit and proper” operator worthy of a licence in the capital.
Rose went on to argue that Uber was no different from an ordinary minicab firm using a telephone line to act as an intermediary between customers and drivers.
Many minicab firms rely upon self-employed drivers, Rose added.
“The relationship in the same whether you have 100 minicab drivers [sharing a phone system] or one app to which 40,000 drivers have signed up,” the FT reported the QC as saying. “It doesn’t make any difference. It’s the operation of the same business model on a different scale.”
The two men, lead claimants James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam won a case last November which found the pair were workers for the firm and entitled to benefits such as the minimum wage, sick pay and annual leave.
“This is a case of a massive corporation spending millions of pounds on lawyers to avoid paying the minimum wage to the people that its business most depends on,” Farrar, who is also chair of the Independent Workers’ Union’s United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) branch, said ahead of the Wednesday morning session.
Paul Jennings, a lawyer acting on behalf of the two claimants, told HuffPost UK: “The most important thing for our clients is that the people who drive the cars are treated fairly and that they are safe.”
Prior to the hearing, an Uber spokesperson said: “Almost all taxi and private hire drivers have been self-employed for decades before our app existed. With Uber drivers have more control and are totally free to choose if, when and where they drive with no shifts or minimum hours.
“The overwhelming majority of drivers say they want to keep the freedom of being their own boss.
“Last year drivers using our app made average fares of £15 per hour after our service fee.
“We’ve recently invested in a number of changes, including discounted illness and injury cover, paid waiting time and the ability to cash out fares at any time.”
The firm has said it is open to changing its practices in the wake of TfL’s shock ruling.