Uber faces ‘class action’ lawsuit in South Africa

 ·23 Feb 2021

London-based law firm Leigh Day and Johannesburg-based Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys have announced plans to introduce a class action lawsuit against ride-sharing service Uber.

The firms said that the class action will be filed in the Johannesburg Labour Court against Uber BV and Uber SA on behalf of South African Uber drivers.

The claim is based on the drivers’ entitlement to rights as employees under South African legislation and will seek compensation for unpaid overtime and holiday pay.

This follows a decision by the UK Supreme Court on Friday (19 February) that Uber drivers should be legally classified as workers rather than independent contractors, and as such are entitled to similar benefits.

Leigh Day represented the UK Uber drivers in the case in which the lower courts, including the English Court of Appeal, also ruled in favour of the drivers, the firms said.

“South African legislation relating to employment status and rights – the Labour Relations Act  and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act – is very similar to UK employment law,” the firms said.

“Furthermore, Uber operates a similar system in South Africa, with drivers using an app, which the UK Supreme Court concluded resulted in drivers’ work being ‘tightly defined and controlled’ by Uber.”

Uber responds

In response to queries sent by BusinessTech, an Uber spokesperson said that the vast majority of drivers who use the Uber app say they want to work independently.

“We’ve already made significant changes to our app to ensure we support this, including through Partner Injury Protection, new safety features and access to quality and affordable private healthcare cover for drivers and their families, voluntarily.

“We continue to do as much as possible to enhance the earnings potential of drivers, and leverage innovative offerings like fuel rewards, vehicle maintenance and other special offers to help them.

“At a time when we need more jobs, not fewer, we believe Uber and other platforms can be a bridge to a sustainable economic recovery. Uber has already produced thousands of sustainable economic opportunities.

“This is testament to the appeal of the Uber business model which provides drivers with an independent status while allowing them to develop and expand their businesses following their needs and time schedules as well as their business skills and plans, and pursue any economic activities of their choice.”

Uber has posted more information about the UK ruling on its blog in which it highlights that the judgement does not reclassify all UK drivers as workers.

It added that the legal case assessed the Uber app as it was in 2016 and therefore does not take into account the substantial changes made to the business since then.

“Worker is a UK specific legal classification and a worker is not an employee. Employee status was not claimed in the litigation and so this ruling does not find the claimants to be employees,” the company said.

“Over the last few years we have made significant changes to our business and have been guided by drivers every step of the way. Many of the examples called out in the judgement are no longer relevant.

“For example, drivers now have full transparency over the price and destination of their trip, and since 2017 there has been no repercussion for rejecting multiple consecutive trips.”

Read: Massive car licence rush expected to hit South Africa

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