30 December 2020

A bittersweet outcome: “Uber has settled a legal challenge that struck at the heart of its business model and could have resulted in its drivers and riders being classified as employees, after three Federal Court judges savaged the company’s arguments at trial. The delivery giant settled shortly after the hearing, avoiding the cost of having to pay its workers a minimum wage, comply with unfair dismissal rules and roster employees that could have come with a ruling its delivery workers are not independent contractors. In a volley of critical questions, the judges said the trial was ‘not a debating club’, Uber should stay ‘in the real world’ and ‘everybody knows what function Uber plays’ as the company’s lawyers argued it was not an employer but merely a service that connected customers, deliverers, and restaurants. … The case settled before the court could deliver its judgment but after the trial, where Uber was represented by a legal team from multinational law firm Ashurst.” (The Liberal-linked Ashurst recently admitted it was systematically underpaying its own junior lawyers.) It’s hard to blame the driver who decided she had to take the settlement offer — she was very brave to take on Uber and push the case as far as she did — but until someone sees a case through to judgment, Uber is free to continue paying drivers based on its “debating club” argument they are not really employees.