Uber South Africa faces class-action lawsuit over driver’s rights

Lawyers argue SA Uber drivers deserve to be recognised as employees.

Two law firms are launching a class action lawsuit against Uber South Africa on behalf of thousands of local drivers.

Johannesburg-based Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys, assisted by London law firm Leigh Day,said a class action suit they were preparing would be filed in the labour court in Johannesburg against Uber BV in the Netherlands and Uber South Africa on behalf of the drivers.

Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys and Leigh Day’s previous alliance resulted in the first two settlements in the silicosis litigation on behalf of gold miners in South Africa. In a statement, the lawyers said, “The claim will be based on the drivers’ entitlement to rights as employees under South African legislation and will seek compensation for unpaid overtime and holiday pay.”

Their case asserts that the current model exploits drivers; that they are effectively employees, but do not benefit from the associated protections.

The Uber claim follows a decision by the UK Supreme Court on 19 February that Uber drivers should be legally classified as workers rather than independent contractors, and as such are entitled to similar benefits. Leigh Day represented the UK Uber drivers in the case in which the lower courts, including the English court of appeal, also ruled in favour of the drivers.

They added that South African legislation relating to employment status and rights, i.e., the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, is very similar to UK employment law.

The joint statement said, “In the UK case, the key issue was whether drivers contract with passengers using Uber as an agent, or alternatively, that drivers are working for Uber. The conclusion of the Supreme Court was that they work for Uber. Even though Uber’s lawyers had drafted agreements giving the impression that Uber were merely agents, the court ruled that the true position was that under employment legislation, Uber has control over the way in which drivers deliver their services.”

The lawyers say that Uber drivers in South Africa tend to be full-time on the Uber platform and their work for Uber is equivalent to full-time employment.

“This, along with the fact that the Competition Commission found that after deductions, some drivers earn less than the minimum wage, means that Uber drivers in South Africa work incredibly long hours just to make ends meet. The Supreme Court recognised similar difficulties faced by drivers in the UK case by stating that in practice, the only way in which drivers could increase their earnings was by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance.”

Zanele Mbuyisa of Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys said, “Uber’s argument that it is just an app does not hold water when its behaviour is that of an employer. The current model exploits drivers: they are effectively employees but do not benefit from the associated protections. We are issuing a call to workers to stand up for their rights and join the class action against Uber.”