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Déjà Uber: ride-hailing app’s drivers are employees, finds Dutch court
16/09/2021
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Uber

Uber has lost the latest round in its global battle to keep platform workers on the ride-hailing app classified as self-employed contractors.

This week, the Amsterdam District Court ruled that drivers who use the app in the Netherlands are employees of the tech giant as the relationship between Uber and its drivers “meets all the characteristics of a labour agreement”.

In its ruling, the three-judge court agreed with a Dutch labour union that Uber’s 4,000 drivers in Amsterdam are employees entitled to the same employment benefits, such as for dismissal and sickness protections, as taxi drivers employed elsewhere in the country.

In addition to allowing drivers to claim back pay for higher salaries owed in some cases, the Dutch court’s judgment also requires the Silicon Valley company to pay damages of €50,000 for its failure to implement the terms of the taxi sector's collective labour agreement.

Uber, which has its European headquarters in the Dutch capital, has confirmed that it intends to appeal the decision. “We are disappointed with this decision because we know that the overwhelming majority of drivers wish to remain independent,” said Maurits Schönfeld, Uber’s general manager for northern Europe. “Drivers don’t want to give up their freedom to choose if, when, and where to work.”

The case was brought by the Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV), which earlier this year also convinced Amsterdam's Court of Appeals that agreements between Deliveroo and its delivery riders qualify as employment contracts.

In a statement, the union’s vice-chair, Zakaria Boufangacha, said the court’s ruling confirms what the FNV has long known: “Uber is an employer and the drivers are employees, so Uber must adhere to the collective labour agreement for Taxi Transport. It is also a signal to The Hague that these types of constructions are illegal and that the law must therefore be enforced.”

Dismissing Uber’s consistent argument that it has no direct control over the users of its platform, Boufangacha said: “Real self-employed workers can determine their own rate and determine how they carry out their work. This is not the case with drivers who drive for Uber. Uber determines the hourly rate, who can or cannot access the app, who gets which ride and how the rides are carried out.”

The California tech giant has lost several important employment law disputes since the turn of the year, starting with the UK Supreme Court’s similar finding that drivers on the platform are not self-employed. The company has since promised to treat all its more than 70,000 UK-based drivers as “workers” and has recognised drivers unionising through one of the UK’s largest trade unions.

Back in the Netherlands, the Amsterdam District Court earlier ordered Uber to reveal the data it used to dismiss two drivers accused of fraudulent activity. The same court issued the San Francisco company with a default judgment ordering the reinstatement of drivers and damages after it failed to respond to a separate claim related to the automated dismissal of platform workers.

Across Europe, the US, Canada, and Australia, Uber and other gig economy companies are facing a string of lawsuits filed by drivers and couriers, protests from unions, as well as new legislation designed to curb what critics believe is an abuse of platform workers.

Uber continues to lobby European leaders to avoid predicted EU regulation of the gig economy. The tech giant has pointed to the passage of Proposition-22 as a blueprint for any new EU regulation, arguing that the California law strikes a balance between preserving flexibility and workplace protections for gig workers.

However, the controversial voter-approved law was declared unconstitutional and unenforceable by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch in August. Having bankrolled the Prop-22 campaign to the tune of more than $200m, Uber and other gig economy companies are appealing the decision.