The debate over whether Uber drivers are contractors or employees just took another turn. The GMB, the UK's union for professional drivers, announced that it is taking legal action against the ride-sharing app, asserting that UK Uber drivers should have basic workers' rights.
Uber has previously come under fire for maintaining that its global driver army are "partners" and not employees. Earlier this month, a California Labor Commission ruled in a single case that a driver was in fact an employee rather than a contractor.
Now the GMB also wants to contest Uber's claim that its drivers are not employees, arguing that they should be entitled to basic rights afforded to workers regarding pay, holidays, and health and safety.
"We decided to take action because of the way Uber treat their drivers," Simon Rush, branch president of the GMB union, told me over the phone. He explained that often drivers can have long work hours.
The union has instructed UK law firm Leigh Day to take legal action on behalf of members driving for Uber. It wants the ride-share startup to abide by UK employment laws and assume more responsibility over its drivers and the public.
"We looked at [Uber drivers'] earnings, and we worked out that their wages are well below national minimum wage," added Rush. Minimum wage in the UK is £6.50 ($10) an hour for over 21s.
GMB wants Uber to ensure that its drivers are paid minimum wage, allow them paid holiday leave and more balanced work hours, and take into account more health and safety issues for both drivers and customers.
If legal action is a success, Rush said that Uber would be forced at least to raise their driver's earnings. "It was difficult to know where to start," said Rush. "But everyone is entitled to representation."
In response to the GMB's decision to take legal action, an Uber spokesperson said that drivers use Uber because "they love being their own boss."
"As employees, drivers would drive set shifts, earn a fixed hourly wage, and lose the ability to drive elsewhere as well as the personal flexibility they most value. The reality is that drivers use Uber on their own terms: they control their use of the app," said the spokesperson in a statement.