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Uber drivers held to be employees in New Zealand

Successful young Asia businesswoman commuter in fashion office clothes entering a taxi.

The New Zealand (NZ) Employment Court has handed down a landmark decision to declare that Uber drivers are to be classified as employees.

The employment status of Uber drivers on the ride-sharing platform has been in contention in many nations around the world. In early 2021, the UK Supreme Court held that Uber drivers are not employees but instead “workers”. Based on the evidence before the Court, Uber “behaved more like an employer by setting rates, assigning rides, requiring drivers to follow certain routes and using a rating system to discipline them.” Consequently, the decision entitled Uber drivers to £12,000 in compensation as well as new benefits entitled to workers such as employment rights and protections.

The NZ Employment Court has taken the classification one step further. NZ legislation requires a protective approach in delineating the relationship between an alleged employee and an alleged employer. This is designed to balance bargaining power and prevent the exploitation of misclassified workers. The Chief Judge noted that “Uber does not simply connect individuals (the driver and the rider; the driver, the restaurant and the eater). It creates, dictates, and manages the circumstances under which its business is carried out, and driver labour is deployed in order to grow that business. All of which points firmly towards an employment relationship.” Moreover, the illusion to accept or reject work is not truly free and the flexibility of work is illusionary.

NZ’s decision to recognise Uber drivers as employees is on par with other countries such as France and the Netherlands. Australian proceedings to determine the status of Uber drivers are currently with the Federal Court and awaiting judgment. However, it should be highlighted that Australia does not feature the same legislative test to determine an employment relationship as NZ and instead relies on case law and jurisprudence.

For a full reading of the case, see here.

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