Stricter regulation for Uber is a victory for gig economy workers everywhere

The company is gradually being forced to take its responsibilities as an employer seriously.

In a win for common sense, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has confirmed that Uber is a taxi firm, not a digital service as its executives have been claiming for years.

The ruling – based on a challenge from Barcelona taxi drivers – will mean that Uber has to abide by local transport laws across the EU, including in the UK.

It could also have knock-on effects across the gig economy, where many businesses are hiding behind similar defences.

And it’s yet another vindication for the Uber drivers’ union, GMB, who have campaigned tirelessly for better rights for Uber drivers.

As usual, Uber has brushed off the result, claiming that the ruling will have little impact on its services and implying that those who challenge rule-breakers in the gig-economy are somehow anti-innovation.

That’s the line they wheeled out when British courts found that their drivers are employees who deserve basic rights and when Transport for London refused to renew their license due to concerns about safety.

But Uber isn’t the victim here. They’re not being asked to meet unreasonable standards, but rather to play by the same rules as everyone else.

And it’s time for them to get their own house in order, making much-needed reforms internally instead of dragging every case through the courts.

We all want advances in technology that make our lives better, both in work and out. But too many gig economy businesses are using their platforms to disguise the kind of working conditions that we thought we’d seen the back of decades ago.

Paying drivers the minimum wage shouldn’t be controversial, yet Uber have battled against it at every step of the way. They’ve also pushed back on claims that their drivers deserve rest breaks and holiday pay.

This is old-fashioned exploitation with a digital face. No amount of flexibility can make up for being denied basic rights.

And what’s going on at Uber is the tip of the iceberg. We know that insecure work and sham self-employment are on the rise right across the economy.

Unions aren’t going to let up on this – we’ll continue to shine a light on schemes designed to cheat working people. So businesses should work with us, rather than trying to obstruct progress at every turn.

And politicians have a role to play too, by getting tough on gig economy and zero-hours employers. The government’s to the Taylor Review into modern employment practices is due early in the New Year, and it’s an opportunity to kick-start a real change.

At the TUC, we think workers deserve a better deal that they’re getting in Britain today. That’s why we’re campaigning for great jobs for everyone, in which workers are paid and treated fairly, have guaranteed hours and have their rights respected.

So if Uber want to avoid even more defeats in court, they should work with us on this and give a fair deal to drivers.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is digital content editor at the TUC and a former editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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