European court ruling may hinder Uber's appeal against drivers' employment status

Ann Santiago
December 22, 2017

It also comes the same week as one of its drivers admitted to the attempted rape and murder of a British embassy worker coming home from a night out in Beirut, Lebanon.

Nevertheless, the Uber app is unreachable for millions of Europeans as governments seek to regulate such services despite Uber's staunch opposition.

"The ruling certainly dampens the enthusiasm that any platform has for offering transportation service in Europe", said Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.

Uber has so far claimed that it was just a digital app serving as a middleman between drivers and customers, with drivers working as independent contractors. The company had argued it was an intermediary technology company, not a provider of transportation services.

The case follows a complaint from a professional taxi drivers' association in Barcelona that Uber's activities in Spain amounted to misleading practices and unfair competition from Uber's use of non-professional drivers - a service Uber calls UberPOP and which has since been suspended in Spain and other countries.

The Uber letter also said that 2.6 percent of United Kingdom drivers are logged in for more than 70 hours a week, and 0.8 percent for more than 80 hours.

"This ruling will not change things in most European Union countries where we already operate under transportation law", an Uber spokeswoman said in a statement.

The ECJ said Uber "exercises decisive influence over the conditions under which the drivers provide their service" and that without the Uber mobile app "persons who wish to make an urban journey would not use the services provided by those drivers".

That intermediation service must thus be regarded as forming an integral part of an overall service whose main component is a transport service and, accordingly, must be classified not as "an information society service" ... but as "a service in the field of transport" ...
Wednesday's ruling by the ECJ means such so-called peer-to-peer services are now off-limits to Uber and other digital companies.

The company's service UberX-which needs the drivers to have proper licenses would remain unaffected by this decision of EU Justice Court. Uber has already had problems with the law in several European countries, particularly France where the company was forced to overhaul its business model. In the United Kingdom a court ruled that Uber is an employer rather than merely "an app", forcing Uber to offer a minimum wage and sick leave.

The GMB Union and the London Taxi Drivers' Association (LTDA), which represents the city's black cab drivers, had asked to be "interested parties", meaning they would be given access to documents and could make submissions.

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