LONDON — For years, Uber has successfully deployed armies of lawyers and lobbyists around the world to fight attempts to reclassify drivers as company workers entitled to higher wages and benefits rather than lower-cost, self-employed freelancers.
Now the ride-hailing giant is retreating from that hard-line stance in Britain, one of its most important markets, after a major legal defeat.
On Tuesday, Uber said it would reclassify more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan. The decision, Uber said, is the first time the company has agreed to classify its drivers in this way, and it comes in response to a landmark British Supreme Court decision last month that said Uber drivers were entitled to more protections.
The decision represents a shift for Uber, though the move was made easier by British labor rules that offer a middle ground between freelancers and full employees that doesn’t exist in other countries. That middle ground makes it unclear whether Uber will change its stance elsewhere. More labor battles are coming in the European Union, where policymakers are considering tougher labor regulations of gig-economy companies, as well as in the United States.
employee,” which includes paternity and maternity leave and severance pay if dismissed, among other benefits.
Britain’s minimum wage for people over 25 years old will be 8.91 pounds, or about $12.40.
For vacation, drivers will receive 12 percent of their earnings, paid out every two weeks, a calculation set by the government.
Uber did not disclose how much the reclassification of British drivers would increase its costs, but it said in a regulatory filing that it did not alter the company’s target of becoming profitable this year. London is one of Uber’s five largest markets, and Britain accounts for about 6.4 percent of the company’s total gross bookings.
Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, put pressure on other ride-hailing companies to adopt similar policies in Britain.
“Uber is just one part of a larger private-hire industry, so we hope that all other operators will join us in improving the quality of work for these important workers who are an essential part of our everyday lives,” he said in the statement.