Uber is a cab firm, European court rules

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Dec 21, 2017
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Uber tried to argue that it was simply a digital service allowing people to connect with each other

Simon Dawson/Reuters

Uber suffered another blow yesterday when the European Court of Justice ruled that the ride-hailing app was officially a transport company, not a digital service (Graeme Paton writes).

The Luxembourg-based court said that the company had to be regulated in the same way as other cab operators after a case brought by taxi drivers in Barcelona. The Silicon Valley giant had argued that it was a digital service enabling people to make contact with each other electronically, rather than a transport company.

Uber’s critics insisted that the ruling represented further criticism of the company’s business model and would force it to play by the same rules as its competitors.

Jason Moyer-Lee, the general secretary of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which has brought a raft of gig economy-related claims, described the ruling as having “made clear, as a matter of law, what everyone already knew as a matter of common sense: Uber provides transportation services, not technology services”. Moyer-Lee went on to say that the ruling was “one more nail in the coffin for Uber's argument that it is simply an agent acting on behalf of drivers and therefore not liable to pay them minimum wage and holidays”.

Lawyers pointed out that the European court decision would not directly affect Uber’s case in the British Court of Appeal in which the company is appealing against a finding that its drivers are workers. “So far Uber has argued both that it is a technology company putting consumers in touch with one another, and a traditional minicab business operating as an agency, but both have been rejected by the tribunals,” Rachel Farr, an employment lawyer at the London law firm Taylor Wessing, said.

But, she said, the ECJ ruling “is bound to make the forthcoming appeal harder for Uber by removing one possible argument it may choose to run”.

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