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Labour law

2018

A judge in Philadelphia, USA has issued a ruling that drivers working under the UberBlack limousine service are not Uber employees, but independent contractors. The case was brought to court in February 2016 by several drivers who claimed that Uber did not comply with labour legislation and failed to pay minimum wage and overtime work. The judge decided that the drivers are contractors, as they enjoy extensive flexibility and Uber does not exert enough control over them to be considered employees. The plaintiffs plan to appeal the ruling.

On 27-28 March, G7 Ministers of Employment and Innovation met in Montreal to discuss how the new economy is impacting industries and workers, and what measures governments can take to  support their citizens in the new world of work. Ministers agreed that more efforts are needed to promote gender equality and women empowerment, including in the field of science, technology, engineering, and maths. They also discussed the importance of public-private cooperation in ensuring that the workforce can adapt and transition to the new economy, as well as of investing in digital literacy and designing appropriate social protection systems. The ministers established an Employment Task Force to provide recommendations on these and other issues, and launched a Future of Work Forum (hosted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) to support the work of the task force. The impact of new digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and big data on society as a whole was also discussed, and ministers underlined the need for human-centric AI developments and for multistakeholder dialogue and cooperation on AI. They also decided to convene a multistakeholder conference on AI, to be held in Canada in the fall of 2018.

In a case brought forward by an Uber driver, the labour tribunal in Paris, France ruled that Uber's 'business is intermediation rather than transportation', and that the driver was self-employed. The court denied the driver's request for a paid leave of absence and severance pay for his work with Uber, and that his service agreement is recognised as an employment contract. The ruling is not final, as the driver can appeal within one month.

The UK government has issued a 'Good Work plan' containing proposals on how the country could 'address the challenges of the changing world of work in the modern economy'. The plan deals, among other things, with the so-called gig economy, and notes that, while opportunities offered by platform-based working offers should be protected, fairness needs to be ensured for 'those who work through these platforms and those who compete with them'. Some action points envisioned in the plan include: redefining the status of 'dependent contractors' for those working in the gig economy; defining working time for flexible workers, so that they can be clear about how the minimum wage applies; adapt legislation to ensure that those working in the gig economy can enjoy maximum flexibility while also earning the minimum wage; align the employment status framework with the tax status to reduce differences to a minimum; and develop an online tool to allow individuals and employers to determine the employment status.

2017

Uber has lost an appeal against a court ruling issued last year by an employment tribunal in the UK, which stated that Uber employees should be classed as workers with minimum-wage rights. In its appeal, Uber argued that most of its drivers prefer their self-employed status, and that the worker status would deprive them of the ‘personal flexibility they value’. A London tribunal decided against Uber’s appeal, and the decision was welcome by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which argues that companies in the sharing economy have been choosing to ‘deprive workers of their rights’. Uber plans to continue to challenge the court decision, and it yet to decide whether to go through a court of appeal, or straight to the Supreme Court.

Uber drivers in Lagos, Nigeria have initiated a class action suit against Uber, arguing that they are entitled to employee benefits from Uber. It is also claimed in the suit that ‘by virtue of the nature of the defendant’s control over the claimants and members of their class, they are not meant to be classified as independent contractors’, and that the company should also provide its drivers with health insurance and pension benefits.

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