GMB and Uber sign historic collective bargaining agreement

GMB and Uber sign a historic collective bargaining agreement to benefit 70,000 UK Uber drivers, which may be the first step to a fairer working life for millions of people.

 

Uber have signed a ground-breaking deal with the GMB union to allow it to represent its 70,000 UK drivers, under a collective bargaining agreement.

Courts have ruled in GMB’s favour four times over the last five years, each time finding that the UK’s 70,000 Uber drivers are workers – and not independent self-employed contractors, as the company had tried to argue. The final ruling took place at the Supreme Court in February 2021, and since then Uber have guaranteed payment of a National Living Wage, holiday pay and a pension.

The deal announced today means that Uber will be the first in the industry to ensure that its drivers also have full union representation, and means that the union can negotiate with Uber over pay and conditions on behalf of all drivers – known as “collective bargaining.” We believe that this is good news not just for Uber drivers themselves, but for all workers in the gig economy.

 

Why was the Uber court case important?

In employment law, a person can either be an employee, a worker, or a self-employed contractor. Employees have the most rights, self-employed contractors the least, and workers fall somewhere in between. Whilst workers do not have protection from unfair dismissal, they do have any other rights – such as paid holiday, minimum wage and rest breaks – which self-employed contractors do not.

In exchange for fewer protections against unfair treatment, those who are genuinely self-employed have more freedom in how they go about their work – for example, often they can choose to send a substitute to carry out work in their place. Employees and workers on the other hand are subject to much tighter controls.

So, if a person is arguing that they are entitled to the rights of a worker, they have to show that they have worker status – something that has become harder and harder to do over the past few years. The problem arises when companies try to exploit their workforce by falsely labelling them as self-employed, whilst at the same time exerting the same control over them as they would if they were a worker or even an employee – essentially the worst of both worlds from the worker’s point of view. Sadly, the emergence of the gig economy – whilst bringing welcome flexibility for many – has seen a huge increase in this damaging and unfair practice.

However, the outcome of the Uber case marks a reversal in this trend. It involved 25 drivers who Uber said were self-employed, and therefore not entitled to rights like paid holiday or rest breaks, but who the court decided were actually workers because of the control Uber was able to exert over their daily working lives.

Significantly, the judges even went so far as to change the legal test for deciding whether someone is a worker or a self-employed contractor. Previously the courts had looked first at what the contract said, before examining the reality of the relationship. Now, the focus will be on the law itself – does the person in question meet the definition of a worker as set down in statute?

The judges made it clear that this change was necessary to protect vulnerable workers, who can often be open to exploitation by unscrupulous employers seeking to avoid having to provide certain

rights, whilst at the same time denying autonomy. Hopefully, the tide has now turned against this unfair and exploitative practice.

 

What does the GMB’s deal with Uber mean for workers?

GMB union reps will now have the right to formally negotiate with Uber managers about pay, as well as other terms and conditions. Generally, where workplaces have a recognition agreement with a union, this leads to better terms and conditions across the board.

The fact that Uber have now signed this deal with the GMB may signal an acceptance by the company that the unfair practice of sham self-employment is on its way out. It is to be hoped that this trend of acceptance will extend to other companies in the gig economy. Uber has today confirmed that they will also support drivers if they choose to sign up as a member of the GMB, and union representatives will have a presence in Uber’s driver support hubs to help drive up membership.

 

Announcing the Agreement, Mick Rix, National Officer, GMB, said:

“This ground-breaking deal between GMB and Uber could be the first step to a fairer working life for millions of people. History has been made. This agreement shows gig economy companies don’t have to be a wild west on the untamed frontier of employment rights. When tech private hire companies and unions work together like this, everyone benefits – bringing dignified, secure employment back to the world of work. We now call on all other operators to follow suit.”

 

Jamie Hanley, Partner at Pattinson & Brewer, the lawyers who regularly work for the GMB Union, said:

“This agreement is fantastic news for the UK’s 70,000 Uber drivers, and for all workers right across the economy, particularly those who continue to experience uncertainty in the gig economy.

We are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the GMB and to represent thousands of their members every year. The GMB has shown real leadership in tackling the difficult legal questions surrounding the status of those who work for businesses like Uber.

It remains hugely disappointing that the leadership shown by the GMB has not been matched by Government – from who we have had only deafening silence.

In case the Government’s missing Employment Bill is languishing on its ‘too difficult to get our head round’ pile, they should consider the chaos caused by their own silence. It has taken years, through the Courts, to dispel Uber’s claim that they are a mosaic of tens of thousands of small businesses, with each driver being self-employed.

We call on Government to now urgently bring forward an Employment Bill to introduce a universal employment status of ‘worker’ that must apply to all people in employment bar those who are genuinely self-employed, and to extend to those people the full suite of employment rights,
available to them from when they begin their employment.”

ENDS

Media enquiries to Jamie Hanley 07712839949 / jhanley@pattinsonbrewer.co.uk

Jamie Hanley, News Releases, Press & Media,
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