Indian Unions Want Regulation As UK Rules Uber Drivers Are Workers

The UK Supreme Court stated that the drivers were subordinate to Uber, leading to an imbalance of power.

4 min read
The UK Supreme Court, in its ruling on 19 February, stated that the drivers were subordinate to Uber, leading to an imbalance of power.

The UK Supreme Court’s recent ruling, that Uber drivers are to be considered workers and not freelance contractors, is being considered closely by the Indian app cab ecosystem whose members say the verdict can have important ramifications in India.

The UK Supreme Court, in its ruling on 19 February, stated that the drivers were subordinate to Uber, leading to an imbalance of power. This included Uber exercising a significant amount of control over drivers in crucial aspects of the service such as deciding fares, terms of contract or interacting with passengers.

App cab unions and NGOs working with gig economy workers said they welcomed the verdict and see it as helping pave a potential pathway for stronger policy making addressing large grey areas in the regulation of the transport platforms sector.

Speaking to The Quint, a national app cabs union also said that recent rulings like the one by the UK Supreme Court as well as in France and Netherlands will also help the Indian gig workers bargain for better rights.

What the UK Supreme Court Ruled

The Uber case began in 2016 when Uber drivers James Farrar, Yasseen Aslam and their fellow claimants successfully took on the firm in an employment tribunal, contending they were workers and, therefore, entitled to a minimum wage and paid leave.

Uber lost a string of subsequent appeals, culminating in the latest unanimous judgment against them by the UK’s Supreme Court. Giving the judgment, Lord Leggatt held that the original employment tribunal was correct for five key reasons:

1. FARES: Drivers have no say over their fares.

2. CONTRACT: A standardised written agreement is essentially imposed on drivers.

3. PASSENGERS: Uber exercises a significant amount of control over drivers, including penalising those whose acceptance rate falls below Uber’s expectations.

4. RATINGS: Uber dictates the way in which drivers should deliver their service and uses a rating system to manage this.

5. COMMUNICATION: Communication between passengers and drivers is restricted by Uber (preventing the formation of any future relationship between the driver and the passenger).

Sangam Tripathy, Assistant Regional Secretary (Asia/Pacific) at International Transport Workers Federation, said the five aspects cited by the UK Supreme Court are all issues that apply to the Indian ecosystem.

“We are also raising all those issues. It’s the algorithm of the company that decides the passengers, the fares and also which driver gets alloted which rider and the algorithm belongs to the company. So, there definitely is a huge imbalance,” Tripathy told The Quint.

Ramifications for India

A similar case had also come up before the Delhi High Court in 2017. The question before the high court was – can drivers working for app-based taxi companies like Ola and Uber be considered as their employees?

The Delhi Commercial Drivers Union had also claimed that the drivers registered with Ola and Uber were being denied even the basic benefits such as compensation in case of accidents or deaths.

The UK ruling, along with similar verdicts in France, Netherlands are making the case for robust regulation of cab platforms in India stronger, says Parminder Jeet Singh, Executive Director, IT for Change NGO.

“The ecosystem is complex and I am completely for these changes. I do think the power equation is very one-sided between the platform and the drivers,” Singh said.

Unlike other issues of online regulation such as with social media, content or privacy, Singh explains this as “a problem of economic distribution” similar to problems of mistreatment that traders have been facing with Amazon, Flipkart.


“It is interesting that the government has been talking of an e-commerce policy. Then there will be sectoral policies like transport, education, health,” Singh said adding, “Even with doctors we are seeing platforms now, something that will become mainstream in a few more years. It is increasingly becoming important and platforms have to be regulated.”

Singh believes that while the Uber judgment may not solve all the problems of Indian drivers, it does “throw a spanner in the wheels of platforms having complete uninhibited run in amassing whatever they want and the other side having no powers.”

Regulation Needed to Address Large Grey Areas: Union

Unions say they have considered the legal and PIL options but it wouldn’t be watertight cases as there a lot of grey area in policy making and regulation.

“Globally the policy making is evolving and India is on the last rung of this. Here the big issue is about policy making and we have been trying to organise the drivers here and trying to influence policy making,” Tripathy told The Quint.

He said that over the last 2-3 years, the app cab unions have managed to get some leverage with the Government of India where now, a new Social Security code has provisions for gig economy workers like those working with Swiggy, Zomato, Dunzo being entitled to social security benefits.

“Regulation is our focus right now. Based on these judgments in the UK and Europe we are trying to tell the government that along with social security, this sector on the whole also needs to be regulated,” Tripathi further added.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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