They are monitored by the firm. They don’t have the option of working for other companies. And they are entitled to all the protections that come with being an employee. The Supreme Court today potentially blew up Uber’s business model, and the model of many other fast-growing ‘gig economy’ companies as well, with a ruling that drivers for the app operator are not self-employed after all, as the company likes to claim, but staff, and should be treated as such.
In truth, you can argue the case for or against that decision, as the lawyers have just done expensively in court. But in reality, this is a hugely important verdict about the kind of economy we want to create. And that economy should be decided by the people we vote for and can re-elect, not by a group of judges.
The Supreme Court may well be right on the strict interpretation of the law. It is a little hard to work out whether Uber drivers fit the traditional category of employee or not. On the whole, they choose their own hours, which makes them sort of freelancers. But they don’t typically work for lots of people which makes them more like employees. It is a legitimate debate. The real problem is that the Supreme Court is not the right body to make the decision.
In fact, the Court has a growing, and questionable, record of judicial activism on economic matters. For example, the (completely correct) decision by the Cameroon government to make people pay fees to take their company to an employment tribunal, to discourage frivolous claims, was also overturned by the Supreme Court.