Two law firms announced on Tuesday that they would move ahead with plans to file a class action on behalf of South African Uber drivers against the ride hailing tech giant's operations in South Africa as well as in London for drivers to be recognised as employees.
If successful, the legal bid will allow South African Uber drivers to pursue holiday pay and compensation for overtime under existing South African legislation. Currently, drivers in the Uber service operate similar to contractors.
The law firms - Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys and Leigh Day - said in a joint statement on Tuesday that a decision by the UK Supreme Court on Friday affirmed that, in 2016, a group of Uber drivers should have been legally classified as workers and should qualify for similar benefits.
"Furthermore, Uber operates a similar system in South Africa, with drivers using an app, which the UK Supreme Court concluded resulted in drivers' work being tightly defined and controlled by Uber," the statement said.
Uber said in a blog post following the UK Supreme Court ruling that the judgment only focused on the group of drivers from 2016, and that they should have been classified as workers.
"The verdict does not focus on the other drivers on the app, nor does it relate to couriers who earn on Uber Eats," Uber said.
"Worker is a UK-specific legal classification and a worker is not an employee."
Zanele Mbuyisa of Mbuyisa Moleele Attorneys said Uber's argument that it was just an app does not hold water when the company behaves like an employer and uses a business model which "exploits drivers".
"We are issuing a call to workers to stand up for their rights and join the class action against Uber. Drivers should contact MBM Law ... to fight for the rights to which they are legally entitled," said Mbuyisa.
Richard Meeran of Leigh Day said: "The ruling by the UK Supreme Court is a final vindication for UK Uber drivers who have for too long been denied their statutory employment rights as workers. We hope that this class action in South Africa will enable South African Uber drivers to access those same rights".
The statement said because Uber sets the amount of the fare, the information given to the driver about the passenger, ratings systems and can deactivate drivers who do not perform according to Uber’s standards, the dynamic between the company and drivers was similar to that of employers and employees.
The statement said up to 20 000 South Africa Uber drivers could be covered by the opt-out class action lawsuit.