Uber drivers declared employees in landmark new ruling

The tech company vowed to appeal the court's ground-breaking decision

Uber drivers declared employees in landmark new ruling

Four Uber drivers have been declared employees by the New Zealand Employment Court in a landmark ruling that the tech company vowed to appeal. The four drivers, represented by the First Union and E Tu, went to court last year to seek declaration that they were Uber employees and are entitled to rights such as minimum wage, holiday pay, sick leave entitlements, and KiwiSaver contributions.

Chief Judge Christina Inglis sided with them in a decision this week, which reiterated that the question of whether someone is an employee depends on the "substance of the relationship and how it operated in practice."

"Each of the plaintiff drivers was in an employment relationship when carrying out driving work for Uber and is entitled to a declaration of status accordingly," said Inglis in the decision.

Read more: Gig workers want a law to guarantee protections and benefits

How will this affect Uber?

In the same decision, however, Inglis clarified that only the drivers named in the case are classified as Uber employees.

"The Court does not have jurisdiction to make broader declarations of employment status to include, for example, all Uber drivers," said the decision. "It follows that there is no immediate legal impact in relation to other Uber drivers. In other words, they do not, as a result of this judgment, instantly become employees."

Despite this, the FIRST Union said that it will be pursuing the case for other drivers and would be helping others in claiming backpay for lost wages, holiday pay, and other entitlements.

"#FIRSTUnion will now be pursuing this for all drivers. On behalf of our 30,000 members, a few of the Uber drivers who bravely testified against the multi-billion-dollar global giant would like to welcome you to your new union," said the union on Twitter.

Read more: Kiwi execs predict growing gig economy

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) also welcomed the ruling in a statement, saying gig workers deserve to be protected under the country's employment law.

"Everyone who works for Uber, and similar gig economy companies, deserve to be treated as employees. These drivers deserve protection under New Zealand's employment law, including pay, guaranteed hours, leave, KiwiSaver contributions, and the right to unionise," said NZCTU president Richard Wagstaff.

Meanwhile, Uber told 1News in a statement that they were "disappointed" by the decision, citing a 2020 ruling from the same court that said a rideshare driver using the Uber app was not an employee. It added they are reviewing the decision and will be filing an appeal against it.

Read more: Uber may be forced to review contracts for NZ drivers

According to the tech giant, which considers its riders as independent contractors, they are committed to improving the standards of all independent workers.

"This ruling underscores the need for industry-wide minimum standards for on-demand work, while preserving the flexibility and autonomy that drivers tell us is important to them," read the statement quoted by 1News.

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