LONDON — Taxi firm Addison Lee is being taken to court over the legal employment status of its drivers.
Union GMB has brought a case against the London company, arguing its 3,800 drivers are in “bogus self-employment,” and the hearing begins on Tuesday, July 4.
In an email sent to employees ahead of the test case, Addison Lee CEO Andy Boland wrote: “The relationship between Addison Lee and its drivers remains the backbone of our business and we are committed to maintaining the flexibility and fairness that served both parties so well.” (You can read the full email below.)
The tribunal comes after a legal showdown between GMB and American ride-hailing firm Uber, and growing scrutiny of Britain’s “gig economy.”
Uber was taken to court in 2016, with GMB and law firm Leigh Day (which is also involved in the Addison Lee case) arguing that its drivers were misclassified as independent contractors and should be entitled to additional rights. Uber lost the case, and is currently appealing.
Growing numbers of Brits work in the gig economy for companies like Uber, technically self-employed and free to choose their own hours but without traditional employment benefits and protections enjoyed by those who work in-house. Defenders of the model argue it gives unprecedented freedom over how and when people want to work, while its detractors counter it undermines people’s rights and can leave them in precarious positions.
Addison Lee’s nearly 4,000 UK drivers are all currently self-employed, and can choose their own hours. The GMB-Addison Lee test case is being brought on behalf of three Addison Lee drivers who are pushing for “worker” status and access to benefits like holiday pay and the national minimum wage.
In an emailed statement, GMB’s legal director Maria Ludkin wrote: “Addison Lee is shirking its responsibilities through bogus self-employment. Addison Lee drivers work for Addison Lee and are entitled to the same basic rights and benefits as workers in other industries.”
Leigh Day’s Liana Wood wrote: “On behalf of our clients we will claim that Addison Lee is wrongly classifying its drivers as self-employed with the result that drivers are denied the rights and protections that they were lawfully intended them to have, including the right to not have their contracts terminated because they are members of a trade union … 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.”
Addison Lee declined to comment.
Addison Lee chief exec Andy Boland defended his firm in an email to employees, writing that “the relationship between Addison Lee and the driver community is fundamental to our shared success. Together we’ve built a positive partnership over many years, based on flexibility and fairness that, in a hugely competitive environment, generates work for 3,800 drivers.”
He added: “It’s a relationship built on flexibility. Our drivers can work when they chose, take other jobs if they wish or take a career break – they decide. This flexibility is seen as very important and is highly valued by our drivers. It’s also common in many other professional sectors.”
You can read the full email from Addison Lee’s Andy Boland below:
The relationship between Addison Lee and the driver community is fundamental to our shared success. Together we’ve built a positive partnership over many years, based on flexibility and fairness that, in a hugely competitive environment, generates work for 3,800 drivers. You’re likely to read or hear about this relationship in the media over the coming days as Addison Lee is the defendant in a tribunal case, brought by three former drivers.
For obvious reasons, I cannot comment on the upcoming tribunal — and if you receive any media enquiries, please pass them on to [redacted] in our Communications Team – but I would like to set out what we see as the key elements of the relationship between Addison Lee and the driver community, and why we believe it’s mutually beneficial.
Firstly, it’s a relationship built on flexibility. Our drivers can work when they chose, take other jobs if they wish or take a career break – they decide. This flexibility is seen as very important and is highly valued by our drivers. It’s also common in many other professional sectors.
We also believe it’s fair. Addison Lee has the most competitive driver deal in the marketplace as evidenced by the number of people looking to join us. Around 2,500 people apply to provide driving services for Addison Lee every year and we only accept around 1 in 4 of those that apply. We believe that this means we have the best drivers in London working with us.
Our driver community is made up of experienced professional drivers who do a fantastic job serving passengers up to 30,000 times each day. In turn, Addison Lee invests in its operations, technology and driver training to help drivers maximise their earnings. It’s a model that has worked well for many years.
It’s also a model that has helped grow Addison Lee into a global leader. After a tough financial year to August 2016, the business has returned to sustained organic growth, and recent investments in technology and strategic acquisitions will help boost that growth.
The relationship between Addison Lee and its drivers remains the backbone of our business and we are committed to maintaining the flexibility and fairness that served both parties so well. We will also continue to review our driver deal as market conditions change, to ensure we attract and retain the best drivers in our industry to work in partnership with us.
Thank you all for your continued hard work and support.