Our Employment Partner, Richard Thomas, looks at the latest developments in the Uber contract dispute and the criticism that their contracts are 'gibberish'

Lawyers are often accused - with some justification at times - of creating wording for legal documents (such as contracts) that bear little relation to the language that everyone else recognises. Frank Field (chair of the work and pensions select committee that is carrying out an investigation into the so-called Gig Economy) has commented that the wording in these contracts is, at times, “gibberish”. In addition, his committee has raised concerns about apparent provisions in these contracts that allegedly prevent those who work for these companies from challenging their employment status in the courts. As a matter of law, any such provision in a contract would simply be ignored by any court or Tribunal in the event of a claim being brought, but such a provision may well serve to persuade workers not to bring such claims.

This is the latest salvo in the ongoing scrutiny of some companies working within the ‘Gig Economy’. The key issue remains whether such companies are engaging people to work for them as genuinely ‘self-employed’ or as ‘workers’. This is an important legal distinction as workers are entitled to certain legal rights such as the right to receive statutory sick pay, national living wage and pension contributions. Mr Field points out that that if companies like Uber are not making these payments then the burden falls on the UK taxpayer. However, Uber points out that almost all taxi and private hire drivers in the UK are self-employed which is absolutely correct. The Black Cab driver that picks you up from a London station will inevitably be self-employed so why should there be any difference with the Uber Driver? The answer will lie in the degree of control that Uber exercises over its drivers. The Black Cab self-employed driver has total freedom to choose when and where to work. However the driver working for Uber will need to log in to the Uber online platform before they can do any work and will then need to work at least some shifts or risk being frozen out of the online platform. The argument runs that Uber exercises a degree of control over its people to the extent that they should be described as workers. This issue of the degree of control will come up again when Matthew Taylor publishes his report into the Gig Economy and the rights and responsibilities associated with this in June of this year so watch this space...