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Lawyers will argue taxi firm’s drivers should be classed as workers as ONS figures show 15 per cent of UK workers are self-employed.

The future of the gig economy could be shaped by two cases that began today at the Central London Employment Tribunal.

Law firm Leigh Day and trade union GMB will argue during the high-profile hearing that drivers working for taxi hailing app Uber should be classed as workers rather than self-employed contractors.

This would entitle them to rights including holiday pay and the national minimum wage.

Lawyers involved in the test cases said they would determine whether Uber was acting unlawfully by not providing drivers with such rights. The lawyers claimed that the verdicts could determine a further 17 claims they said had been brought against Uber – and have wider implications for a range of sectors across the UK.

Leigh Day employment lawyer Annie Powell said:

“On behalf of our clients, we will claim that Uber is wrongly classifying its drivers as self-employed with the result that drivers are denied the rights and protections that Parliament intended them to have.

“We will argue that Uber exerts significant control over its drivers in order to provide an on-demand taxi service to the public. If Uber wishes to operate in this way, and to reap the substantial benefits, then it must acknowledge its responsibilities towards those drivers as workers.

“This claim is vital for the thousands of Uber drivers who work in England and Wales and has implications even wider than that. We are seeing a creeping erosion of employment rights as companies misclassify their workers as self-employed so as to avoid paying them holiday pay and the national minimum wage.”

GMB national secretary Justin Bowden said:

“The GMB is proud to be supporting this claim against Uber, which we see as challenging a growing and pernicious practice by companies, that of wrongly claiming workers are self-employed.

“Uber drivers face very difficult working conditions and, with cuts to fares, we believe that some of our members are taking home less than the national minimum wage when you take into account the costs of running a car.

“We are also concerned that some drivers are working longer and longer hours in order to make ends meet and are unable to take any paid holiday. We believe that this could pose a safety risk to drivers and the public.”

Jo Bertram, regional general manager at Uber UK, said: “More than 30,000 people in London drive with our app and this case only involves a very small number. The main reason people choose to partner with Uber is so they can become their own boss, pick their own hours and work completely flexibly. Many partner-drivers have left other lines of work and chosen to partner with Uber for this very reason. In fact, two thirds of new partner-drivers joining the Uber platform have been referred by another partner.”

Meanwhile, earlier this week, prime minister Theresa May has been urged to launch a policy review into the classification of self-employment after an investigation by The Guardian into labour practices at courier firm Hermes.