So the GMB and the two Uber drivers who thought they ought to receive holiday pay and be guaranteed the national living wage have won their case. An employment tribunal has ruled that Uber was wrong to classify them as self-employed as their contracts placed too much demand on them to work at particular times – a condition which indicates employment rather than self-employment.
What the other 40,000 Uber drivers think of the case is not clear. On the one hand, having status as employees would offer them a guaranteed £7.20 an hour and paid holidays. On the other hand, it would mean paying higher National Insurance contributions and less flexibility to work when they want to. It would make it much more difficult for them to combine driving a cab with doing other work. No longer would they be able to choose to work just the peak hours when rates are high – they would find themselves having to report for duty at slack times, when they won’t be able to earn any more than the living wage and when they might rather be doing something else. They would gain paid holidays, but at the expense of being able to decide to take time off whenever they felt like it. No more would they be able to swan off for a few days as the whim took them – they would have to book their holidays weeks or months ahead.
I use ‘would’ rather than ‘will’ in the above paragraph because surely it is really all just academic. The GMB will trumpet its great victory, the two victorious drivers will receive some back pay. But surely all that will happen is that Uber will go away and rewrite its contracts to make sure that its drivers do qualify as self-employed. The odd word change here, the odd word change there and things will carry on pretty much as before. Uber is not suddenly going to redefine itself as a cradle-to-grave employer, however much the GMB might like it to.
There has been a noticeable lack of celebratory reaction so far from black cab drivers. While they might be minded to rejoice at anything which sees their nemesis coming to grief, they will also be aware of the consequences of the decision. If Uber drivers really did all have to be reclassified as employees, and as a result have to pay higher National Insurance contributions, the taxman might start to argue that black cab, drivers, too, should be employees. At the moment they enjoy the benefits of self-employment. While the GMB and black cab drivers might be united in their dislike of Uber, I don’t think, somehow, that their interests are quite aligned.