Uber Back in UK Court Arguing That Drivers Aren't Employees

Uber defended its practice of classifying drivers as independent contractors in a UK appeals court.

AP Photo/Matt Dunham

Uber was back in a United Kingdom court Tuesday defending its business model against renewed accusations that it should classify drivers as employees rather than independent contractors, reports Reuters. It's the latest in a series of challenges against Uber and the so-called "gig economy" in general.

In 2016, two British drivers successfully argued at a tribunal that Uber exerted enough control over them to warrant their classification as employees, meaning they would be entitled to things like a minimum wage, paid holidays, and breaks. An appeal tribunal upheld the decision in 2017, prompting Uber to go to the U.K. Court of Appeal.

Uber has argued that classifying drivers as employees would do more harm than good. The company has repeatedly said that most of its drivers work only a handful of hours a week and view driving only as a supplemental form of income. Treating drivers as employees would remove the flexibility these part-time drivers currently rely on to balance their work for Uber with other things, the company believes.

In the case of the U.K. specifically, Uber said the practice of treating drivers as independent contractors is already used in London by minicabs, the privately-owned taxis that operate alongside the U.K. capital's traditional black cabs.

"Many minicab companies operate a business model under which drivers are self-employed, own their own cars, and bear the risk of their own expenses," Uber said in a court document reviewed by Reuters.

Even as Uber heads toward an expected initial public offering (IPO) in 2019 and addresses some past controversies, the issue of driver status keeps cropping up. The company has faced lawsuits around the world, as well as protests from taxi drivers claiming ride-hailing services represent unfair competition. Given the level of controversy, it's not surprising that Uber is investing heavily in autonomous-driving technology.

Ubers Outnumber Taxis by More Than 3 to 1 in New York City
The Drive