Global grapple for gig status

Global grapple for gig status

Chris Piggott-McKellar investigates how platforms like Uber have reignited the debate around employment status

Since the UK’s employment appeal tribunal ruled in November last year that two Uber partner drivers should be treated as workers and not self-employed contractors, the debate over how to classify drivers using apps and online platforms has taken on a global dimension.

With Uber indicating their intention to appeal the decision, and the UK’s supreme court determination imminent in a major test case brought against Pimlico Plumbers, Modern Work circumnavigated the globe to see how other countries’ courts have dealt with the employment status of people engaged in the so-called platform economy.

The issue of classification is important because workers and employees attracts workplace rights, which are not afforded to the self-employed.


In the US, both federal and state laws apply to employment. This has led to often contrasting conclusions about classification.

In a significant decision in April this year, a court in Philadelphia decided that Uber exercised insufficient control over UberBlack drivers to make them employees.

In California, a court found in February this year that GrubHub correctly classified a delivery driver as an independent contractor, while in May a group of document deliverers hired by Dynamex Operations West were successful in having the court confirm employment status.

Meanwhile last year in Texas and Alaska, to stop costly court cases over misclassification, legislatures passed a law clarifying that ride-sharing drivers will almost invariably be independent contractors.


Whether ride-sharing drivers are employees or self-employed under EU law has not been fully tested in the courts. Some country’s courts have looked at this issue, like France, where earlier this year an employment tribunal held that a contract between a driver and Uber did not stipulate a status of employment.


The Australian workplace tribunal – the Fair Work Commission – in January this year held that Uber drivers lacked a “work-wages bargain” fundamental to employment, and were therefore independent contractors.

Commenting on the situation in the UK, Simon McVicker, IPSE’s director of policy and public affairs, said the reliance on courts to determine employment status was causing anxiety.

He said: “It is totally unacceptable that policymakers are relying on the courts to define self-employment. We want a positive definition so unscrupulous companies cannot exploit confusion and push people into false self-employment.”