Planned class action suit by Uber drivers gets support

05 March 2021 - 17:34
The Centre for Transformative Regulation of Work (Centrow) at the University of the Western Cape says it supports a planned class action suit against Uber that its drivers are employees and not independent contractors. Stock photo.
The Centre for Transformative Regulation of Work (Centrow) at the University of the Western Cape says it supports a planned class action suit against Uber that its drivers are employees and not independent contractors. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/ammentorp

The Centre for Transformative Regulation of Work (Centrow) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) says it supports a planned class action against Uber SA, and its holding company in the Netherlands, Uber BV.

Centrow said its research, and that of labour law specialists elsewhere, supported Uber drivers’ claim that Uber had misclassified them as independent contractors whereas they were employees.

Centrow's support follows an announcement made late last month by Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys in Johannesburg, assisted by Leigh Day in the UK, that a class action will be filed in the Johannesburg labour court against Uber BV and Uber SA on behalf of SA Uber drivers.

The law firms said the claim will be based on the drivers’ entitlement to rights as employees under SA legislation and will seek compensation for unpaid overtime and holiday pay.

The planned action follows a decision by the UK Supreme Court on February 19 that Uber drivers should be legally classified as workers rather than independent contractors, and as such are entitled to similar benefits.

Leigh Day represented the UK Uber drivers in the case in which the lower courts, including the English Court of Appeal, also ruled in favour of the drivers.

SA legislation relating to employment status and rights — the Labour Relations Act (LRA) and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) — was very similar to UK employment law, it said.

Centrow said the planned action is set to be a landmark case that will go a long way to protecting the rights of platform workers and freelance contractors throughout the country.

As in most countries, worker protection in SA was mainly limited to employees. Uber drivers were denied this protection because Uber classified them as independent contractors, Centrow said.

“However, research and court judgments in SA and around the world have demonstrated that many 'independent contractors' are employees in all but name and are misclassified for the purpose of avoiding applicability of protective legislation.”

Centrow said this stance has once again been confirmed by the recent judgment of the Supreme Court of the UK that Uber drivers are not independent contractors, but that they work for Uber and are entitled to the applicable statutory protection.

“We therefore call on trade unions and progressive researchers to join in giving any possible support to the class action, also in the form of research where necessary to clarify contentious legal or practical issues.”

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