Employment Status of Taxi Drivers

Posted in : Seamus Says - Employment Law Discussion on 3 December 2020
Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors
Issues covered: Employment Status

Scott: Cases against Uber seem to be going the drivers' way, but is there a weakness in the argument because taxi drivers have traditionally been self-employed?

They've always followed that model. Even though there are people back at base directing them where to go and many now are prepaid and customer names and addresses are stored. Ordinary taxi drivers, never mind the Uber types. It's not just Uber who have drivers that are deemed to be employees or workers.

 So this is the case that's gone to the Supreme Court. We're waiting for it to be heard. Could be not even next year. It could be later.

But this is about the gig economy. It kind of ties in with those who are working abroad. Uber have argued that they're not even workers, never mind employees. And the drivers are saying, "Well, hold on a second. You tell us what to do, where to go. You serve us stuff. We're not just people who are using an app". And the question here is it's traditional in this industry that taxi drivers are self-employed. So could that be something that comes through? 

Seamus: It's going to depend entirely upon the nature and the model that is being used when it comes to the taxi driver or the worker or the employee. I did cover this question . . . well, not so much a question, but I certainly covered the topic at the Annual Review. And if anybody has the notes from that, they can go back. I see that Legal-Island do have the ability to purchase notes from the Annual Review.

But in relation to the work case, it has been heard at the Supreme Court. We are waiting on the decision. It was heard in July. We're waiting on the decision. Hopefully, we'll be getting that very soon. I had actually hoped whenever Scott and I had looked at this originally that we would have the decision through by the time of the Annual Review, but we didn't.

The important point is that Uber's position when it comes to that case is they say that the two individuals that have brought case, Mr Aslam and Mr Farrar, they say that they are not employees. They are simply self-employed independent contractors and that therefore they have no employment obligations whatsoever.

And if I can remember this right, the contract between Uber and the driver states that nothing shall create an employment relationship between the parties essentially. And that's their argument in relation to it.

I suspect that anybody that's working for a local taxi organisation here in Northern Ireland, there probably isn't a written contract in place. There's maybe a loose sort of agreement in terms of hiring or purchasing of cars from the company.

But for the day-to-day taxi man that's there, they could very much view themselves as being self-employed. They determine their own hours. They determine whenever they're going to work. They can say whenever they don't want to work. They can take the shifts whenever they're available. And they can determine who they pick up and who they don't.

So even though they're radioed through and said, "Look, can you go to this address?" ultimately, if they don't want to go there, they don't have to. Also, if they get there and they don't like maybe the presentation that they're faced with at times, they don't have to take that party on either.

So it is a different scenario whereby . . . I think with Uber you're sent the notification, you accept that, and you undertake that you're going to go and get the job and take the fare essentially.

So there could be a lot of different arguments there, but there's no doubt . . . I suppose my main point in relation to this is that there's no doubt that the case law has moved in a way to look much more favourably in relation to defining that the person is either a worker or an employee. And there certainly is a move away in the case law from this idea of somebody being a self-employed contractor.

It will not work in every single circumstance and there will be genuine circumstances when the person is self-employed. But the law is certainly tightening up and we're hoping we'll get clear guidance from the Supreme Court whenever we get the Uber decision.


This article is correct at 03/12/2020

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Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

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