Getty
  • In the United Kingdom, Uber is reclassifying its drivers as "workers", after it lost a legal fight.
  • Such workers are eligible to receive a minimum wage and paid vacation time, and some other protections extended to employees.
  • In South Africa, the company says, it has already done a lot to protect its "independent" drivers, and it will continue to talk to governments.
  • But "this conversation will differ from country to country".
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

In the United Kingdom, Uber is now reclassifying drivers as "workers" after losing a long and bitter legal fight in February.

The people who drove Uber customers around in cars referred to as Ubers were independent contractors, the company had insisted. Then, when it lost a case before the UK's highest appeal court, it said the impact was limited to a small number of drivers.

But on Tuesday it confirmed it would change the status of some 70,000 UK drivers, which means they will have the right to earn a minimum wage, get paid holiday time, and enjoy some other protections extended to employees, which is a different legal category to that of "worker" in the UK.

See also | Uber will pay its 70,000 UK drivers minimum wage and benefits following major court defeat

That does not mean anything will change in South Africa, though.

Asked what the new dispensation in the UK meant in SA, Uber said it had "already made significant changes" in South Africa, pointing to injury protection for drivers, voluntary healthcare cover, and safety features.

"We are committed to engaging and working with governments to try to update existing legal frameworks to include benefits and protections for independent contractors without removing the flexibility and independence that attracted them to use Uber in the first place," the company said in a statement to Business Insider South Africa. 

"There is no one size fits all approach and this conversation will differ from country to country, but we are committed to engaging with local policymakers on this important topic."

Parliament, competition regulators, and other authorities have indicated various levels of unhappiness with the way Uber operates in South Africa, and some have threatened to force changes, including greater labour protection for its drivers.

On Wednesday, Uber stressed its role as a creator of work opportunities, if not formal employment.

"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," it said.

Uber is at the centre of a debate about flexible work versus exploitation in several countries. It could be facing a related class action in South Africa, with lawyers arguing drivers should be recognised as employees, rather than self-employed independent contractors.

Uber is not alone in arguing flexibility of employment is crucial, especially in South Africa with its high rate of unemployment. One of its fellow gig-economy platforms, cleaning service SweepSouth, says SA requires a "third worker classification", similar to the way the UK distinguishes between employees, workers, and the self-employed. Such a category, it believes would provide "access to certain benefits but also respects the flexibility of workers and the true nature of platforms which seek to connect two parties together."

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

Receive a daily news update on your cellphone. Or get the best of our site emailed to you

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.