UK: Time For Tech To Clock-On? Uber And The Death Of The Gig Economy

So that's it. The Courts have said Uber drivers are employees and Teresa May 's announced review of employment practices  means we're all going to have to be wage-slaves, like it or not.

Not quite. An employment tribunal  (not 'The Courts') has said that Uber drivers are 'workers', not 'employees'. That is to say they fit a specific statutory definition that means they are entitled to some specific rights, notably holiday pay and sick pay. They don't become employees: they don't get unfair-dismissal protection, nor maternity rights.

Despite Uber's protestations, the case in no way endangers their business model, merely their margins. Expect, after a lot of fuss, fares to rise.  Don't, as both the Hitchhiker's Guide and Corporal Jones are wont to say, panic.

Instead, worry.

This blog is about the broader and medium-term implications for UK tech, although it is relevant to UK PLC/Ltd/LLP as well. I'm not going to tell you what the case says - the web is awash with alerts and analyses of which the best is   Darren Newman's  - but about what it might mean.  

Because the pendulum is swinging and it's a bit of wrecking ball.

Perhaps 23 June marks the high-tide of Globalisation 1.01. That's when its losers said 'enough': we don't want to be flexible, international, open; we want to be safe. Pull up the drawbridge.

If you're reading this, you may recognise this tribe but you're not part of it. You watched, aghast, as 'they' put a moat between you and your markets, you and your investors, you and your labour-pool.  And you are inside the castle and 'they' are in charge. Its walls are your prison.

Teresa May gets that we have new masters. She doesn't necessarily know what to do about it, but she gets it.

Hence the review. The Notting Hill Tories (remember them?) all but abolished statutory-employment protection when they brought in fees of up to £1200 to bring an employment tribunal claim, with a remission system so slow and fiendishly complicated that low-earners have simply not bothered to bring claims. That's caused real-hardship for people who've had their wages docked unlawfully: a small amount makes a big difference when you're near the breadline and you daren't even contemplate the cost of simply getting paid what you've earned.

The Government promised the Courts they'd review the impact of fees. They've been sitting on the results of that review for about a year, hence the hollow laughter from employment lawyers when Mrs May discovered she was concerned about workers' insecurities.  The Cabinet in which she sat  gleefully and deliberately caused a fair few of the very insecurities she is now reviewing and its successor, which she chairs, is sticking its pudgy fingers in its collective ears and la-la-la-ing to drown out the injustice and misery.

So they're being hit by the backlash.  The government was shocked, shocked, to discover what was going on at Sports Direct with its systematic abuse of casual labour. The Employment Tribunal listened to Uber's platitudes about 'giving drivers the opportunity to develop their own business' and politely (just about) rubbished them. New unions fill the gap the lumbering, dying giants of old can't and crowd-fund cases against Hermes and Deliveroo.

Apart from impacting the EBITDA for a couple of rather useful apps,  what has this to do with Tech? These are all instances of low-skilled, low-paid workers seeking such fripperies as some income when they're too ill to work, or maybe a few quid so they can take a holiday.  We are but one step away from Oliver Twist asking for  more. These people don't write code, there's no bidding war for their services. We don't have to put a pool table in the office for them, let alone make sure we're no more than 100 yards from artisan coffee.

It's the direction of travel.  Tech needs flexible labour. In-demand engineers don't want to be tied down.  Interns understand they need to build their CV. Start-ups have no cash but a really exciting idea that people are prepared to invest their own time in for the promise or even the hope of equity

And UK employment law, as much by accident as by design, up to now can just about accommodate all of that. Admittedly, it was already creaking under the weight of abuse.  So-called interns were in some cases just free summer labour.  So-called consultants, hiding behind 'personal service companies' were as much on the payroll in reality as the CEO.  There were abuses and there were people who could catch the abusers: HMRC could enforce the minimum wage, the Tribunals police holiday and sickness pay.

But the guards have been starved of funds or locked behind prohibitively expensive fees. A 'business-friendly' climate made for a practical contempt for ordinary workers and their families.  It costs money to enforce the law and the government hasn't got any (it's promised it all to Nissan) so it's likely to make some new laws, because words are cheap.

So instead of simply cracking down on abusers and dropping the fees-regime, both of which would go a long way towards sorting out the real issues, the Government might just proclaim a new regime for work, a new structure.  Why else raise expectations with a review? Something Must Be Done.

New regulation.

Think of the Uber decision not as something which dramatically affects what Tech does now but as a warning sign. Society is finding complexity a bit tricky at the moment and Government is listening. What you might think is a necessary labour practice for your business that suits both you and your workers could be outlawed. There is a lot of bathwater to be thrown out and if we babies want to avoid going with it then we have to start screaming.

I'm doing my bit to start the infernal chorus  of the infants here at Tech City News (at about 1:36). Do join me, everyone.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
21 Sep 2017, Seminar, London, UK

Has Cloud replaced traditional outsourcing models? We will compare cloud to outsourcing, consider whether they have effectively become the same thing for many solutions and assess some of the advantages and disadvantages of each model.

3 Oct 2017, Seminar, London, UK

Join us over breakfast for our third retail-focused seminar.

17 Oct 2017, Workshop, Birmingham, UK

This practical workshop will take in-house counsel through the life of a brand, providing guidance on issues which regularly arise.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.