A group of Uber drivers in SA will head to court to seek rights including compensation for unpaid overtime and holiday pay, their lawyers said on Tuesday, hoping for a similar victory to that of British drivers this month.
In both the UK and SA, Uber drivers are treated as self-employed, affording them only minimal protections in law, a status the US ride-hailing company sought to maintain in its long-running UK legal battle. That ended last week when Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that a group of 25 drivers were entitled to worker rights such as the minimum wage.
While Uber said the decision did not apply to all its 600,000 drivers in the country, it was a blow to the company’s business model and a significant victory in battles being fought on many fronts against the so-called gig economy.
While businesses say the gig economy offers flexibility for workers, trade unions among others say it is exploitative.
In November, Uber saw off a challenge in its home market of California when voters backed a ballot proposal that cemented app-based food delivery and ride-hail drivers’ status as independent contractors rather than employees.
The SA case could affect up to 20,000 drivers, British law firm Leigh Day and Johannesburg-based peer Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys said. They did not specify when the case would be filed.
Richard Meeran of Leigh Day, which represented the British Uber drivers, said that case marked a final vindication for drivers who had been denied their statutory employment rights for too long.
“We hope this class action in SA will enable SA Uber drivers to access those same rights,” he said.
Uber did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
The law firms said in SA, Uber drivers often do not own their own cars and have to work long hours to make ends meet on their current wages.