Uber in London Photograph:( Reuters )
In UK, there are three categories of employment status, employees, workers and self-employed contractors. Employees have the maximum protection as they enjoy the most benefits. Self-employed contractors have the least. So, when this case came up in court. Uber stuck to its claim and so did the two drivers. There was a four-year-long legal battle and then UK's top court said, uber drivers should be treated as workers and not self-employed. It meant that they are entitled to a minimum wage and a holiday pay
Who is an employee? It may seem a simple question but it's not. In 2016, two Uber drivers in the United Kingdom took the app-based cab service to court.
These two drivers told the court that they worked for Uber but it said, the drivers did not work for the company and that they were self-employed. Is that something to fight over? Actually, it is.
The moment you employ someone, you are expected to give him or her employment benefits like minimum wage, annual leaves, insurance. These vary depending on a country's labour laws.
In UK, there are three categories of employment status, employees, workers and self-employed contractors. Employees have the maximum protection as they enjoy the most benefits. Self-employed contractors have the least. So, when this case came up in court. Uber stuck to its claim and so did the two drivers. There was a four-year-long legal battle and then UK's top court said, uber drivers should be treated as workers and not self-employed. It meant that they are entitled to a minimum wage and a holiday pay.
It happened on the February 19. It was just the beginning of Uber's troubles. Four days later, the company was fined in Italy. Again, over the same employment debate.
Uber, and food delivery apps were told their couriers delivery personnel are employees. They should be treated as employees. Four companies were fined 733 million euros for breaching labour safety rules. The companies were told to pay the couriers delivery personnel, social security and insurance also give them adequate clothing, helmets, masks, scooters or bicycles, etc.
The decision of two courts in Italy and Britain to declare Uber drivers and food app couriers as employees is important for the whole world as it sets a precedent.
It's only a matter of time before such a case comes up in another country. It is important now as it ensures that there is no exploitation.
App-based cabs, and food delivery services have been around for some time now in India. They have generated employment for thousands of people. Many have migrated from rural areas to drive cabs in cities. Driving an Ola or an Uber was very lucrative a few years ago. Several people quit their desk jobs to drive cabs but the story slowly changed over the years. In 2017, some drivers approached a Delhi court as they said, the apps were exploiting them by not treating them as employees.
Soon, a video emerged of a Zomato delivery agent tasting food that he was tasked with delivering. While we all cringed, we overlooked the desperation in the video.
In India, a food delivery agent employed by a Zomato or a Swiggy barely earns a few thousand rupees a month. They work long shifts in polluted cities during extreme weather and yet they enjoy no benefits, such as sick leaves, insurance, etc.
They are called independent self-employed workers but they do not enjoy the benefit of that status. In other words, they cannot take up multiple jobs. The app-based cab drivers can, but the food couriers can't. When the pandemic struck many of these workers were fired without notice or compensation.
Their companies blamed the coronavirus but fingers were really pointing at the downside of gig economy. That's independent working. Today, the gig economy is worth over $3.7 trillion.
Freelancing, working multiple jobs and working from home have been trendy since the pandemic struck but what we don't realise is that such jobs have no cushions, no benefits.
The latest rulings by the courts in the UK and Italy have also put employers in a fix. Not only will they have to shell out more resources, they will also have to figure out how the resources are allocated.
Many cab drivers work for multiple service providers. How do you determine which company is supposed to give them employment benefits? Also, will the drivers be able to serve the rest of the companies once they are categorised as employees?
Will the end result be in favour of the drivers or will it create further troubles for them?
What the industry needs right now is to come up with a new model to ensure- that while companies survive those working are also not exploited.