Uber drivers win against company in New Zealand, will be now deemed employees

A New Zealand court has ruled that Uber drivers are full-time employees and not just “partners” as Uber describes them. This means they are also eligible for all rights, benefits and protection that employees get.

New Delhi,UPDATED: Oct 25, 2022 11:03 IST

Uber to appeal against the court verdict on making four workers employees

By Divya Bhati: New Zealand’s Employment Court has, in a landmark decision, ruled Uber drivers must be treated as employees by Uber. Currently, the drivers are treated as contractors. In fact, across sectors, most workers in the entire gig economy (think of delivery guys and drivers working with companies like Uber, Ola, Zomato, Swiggy etc) are considered contract workers and hence are not paid salaries or employee benefits. Instead, they take a cut in each completed.

In New Zealand, the case was jointly bought by FIRST Union and E tu — a trade union in New Zealand. The appeal sought declaration of the employment status for four of Uber drivers. However, the ruling will have implications not just for the drivers who were part of the appeal but almost all Uber drivers as well as many gig workers.

Although, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper, the ruling did come with a caveat. In the judgement chief judge Christina Inglis wrote that the court “does not have jurisdiction to make broader declarations of employment status” so all Uber drivers “do not, as a result of this judgement, instantly become employees.”

While the ruling was celebrated among the Uber workers, Uber has announced that it would appeal against it. The ride-sharing company will be appealing against the decision to grant four of its drivers the status of employees rather than contractors. Uber said that it was “too soon to speculate” if the company’s operations in the country would be impacted by New Zealand drivers gaining employee status.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2021, by the union representing the four drivers seeking a declaration that they are employees of Uber and are entitled to the rights and protections under New Zealand employment law. The rights include minimum wage, guaranteed hours, holiday pay, sick leave, KiwiSaver contributions, the right to challenge an unfair dismissal, and the right to unionise and collectively bargain.

Notably, this ruling by New Zealand’s court follows similar examples from cases in the UK and France. Many workers around the world have taken the gig economy companies to court in order to protect their job rights. Uber, which is currently one of the biggest ride-sharing companies around the globe, hires drivers as independent contractors. Due to this the drivers are not entitled to a minimum wage, insurance, overtime pay or other benefits.

Even in India food delivery workers of Zomato and Swiggy are considered contract employees or ‘independent contractors’ or ‘independent entrepreneurs’. While contract-based work promotes new employment, extra source of income and flexibility, it also has its downsides. Often there are reports that the workers face tough time due to low pay, irregular working hours, and overwork.

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