File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA).
File picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA).

Uber to face class action in South Africa over driver rights

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Feb 25, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG - Ride-hailing giant Uber is set to face a class action in South Africa, as drivers demand employee rights, as they have in some overseas countries.

To make this happen, South African law firm Mbuyisa Moleele attorneys will be teaming up with UK-based firm Leigh Day, which has already won certain employee rights for 25 Uber drivers in the UK.

“Uber drivers in other parts of the world now have employment rights like paid holiday after Uber was beaten in court. Uber won’t pay South African drivers unless we take them to court. Drivers may be entitled to paid holiday and unpaid overtime,” Mbuyisa Moleele attorneys said in a statement.

“The case will be on behalf of drivers wanting to be recognised as employees, rather than as independent contractors. Leigh Day are assisting SA based law firm Mbuyisa Moleele attorneys, who will be launching a similar class action in SA and have asked local Uber drivers to join the suit.”

The law firms also pointed out that many South African Uber drivers do not own their own cars, and thus have to work long hours to make ends meet on their current wages.

Minimal protection by law

In both Britain and South Africa, 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.

Although 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 that the gig economy offers flexibility for workers, trade unions among others say it is exploitative.

However, not all legal challenges against Uber are successful. Last November, Uber saw off a challenge in its home market of California, where voters backed a ballot proposal that cemented app-based food delivery and ride-hail drivers' status as independent contractors rather than employees.

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