A leading organisation representing contracting professionals and self-employment has criticised last week’s employment tribunal ruling against app-based cab service Uber for its “astonishing” failure to recognise a key distinction between employment and self-employment.

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) was responding to a decision by London’s Employment Appeal Tribunal on Friday to dismiss Uber’s appeal against a previous tribunal ruling that its drivers should be classified as employed workers. The new decision upholds that earlier finding, and has significant implications for the entire gig economy in the UK.

In 2016, two Uber drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, were sponsored by the GMB trade union to file a lawsuit against Uber over employment rights. They claimed that they should be officially classified as employees. In a landmark ruling, the employment tribunal subsequently upheld that claim.

Uber appealed the decision, but the latest ruling has thwarted that initiative.

Nigel MacKay, employment solicitor at Leigh Day (the law firm acting for the GMB and its two Uber driver claimants), said that the EAT’s decision to reject Uber’s appeal was “entirely correct” and the company should now ensure its drivers receive the minimum wage and holiday pay. Leigh Day intends to return to the tribunal on behalf of its GMB member clients to pursue “the compensation they are entitled to”.

However, CEO of IPSE Chris Bryce described the decision as “astonishing”.

He continued: “A key element of being a worker is having to turn up for work even if you don’t want to. This is clearly not the case with people who drive through Uber — they choose when and how long they work for by logging on or off the app.”

The recent proliferation of employment tribunals connected to the gig economy, Mr Bryce observed, reflected a basic lack of clarity over what is meant by working on one’s behalf. He went on:

​“The government needs to seriously consider introducing a statutory definition of self-employment. That would bring greater certainty and reduce the need for further tribunals. This would help both individuals unsure of their status and companies wishing to engage people on a self-employed basis.”

Noting that people driving via the Uber app valued the flexibility afforded them by platform-based working, Bryce expressed IPSE’s concern that the tribunal’s latest ruling would damage the flexibility they seek. IPSE’s 5,500 driver members repeatedly declared that they prefer to be self-employed because of the flexibility it offers.

Uber’s acting UK General Manager Tom Elvidge announced that the firm will be appealing the latest decision, as well as the recent ban on its London operations by Transport for London.

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