Uber drivers win right to cost-free hearings in Canada

UberEATS driver David Heller triggered legal action against Uber

UBER DRIVERS WILL GET THEIR DAY IN COURT IN CANADA. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that drivers can have labour issues resolved through Ontario courts.

The June 26 ruling puts an end to drivers having to rely on a costly arbitration process in the Netherlands to settle disputes with their boss.

The Supreme Court ruling opens the door to a proposed $400-million class-action lawsuit begun against Uber in 2017 by Uber Eats driver David Heller, who claims the Uber employment contract violates employment standards law.

Uber opposed Heller’s claim. The company argued their standard employment contract stipulated any disputes with their workers had to be resolved through a defined arbitration process.

A lower court agreed with Uber. The Supreme Court didn’t.

Inequality of bargaining power

In an eight-to-one Canada’s highest court said: “The arbitration clause [is] unconscionable, based on the inequality of bargaining power between the parties and the improvident cost of arbitration.”

Uber’s mediation and arbitration process requires an up-front filing fee of USD $14,500 and must be carried out in the Netherlands. Both realities greatly influenced the courts decision for Heller.

The $14,500 fee represented most of Heller’s income at the time. The Supreme Court ruled that raised the real possibility that Heller’s complaints about the company would never be resolved.

“A court should not refer a challenge to an arbitrator’s jurisdiction to the arbitrator if there is a real prospect that doing so would result in the challenge never being resolved,” the judges wrote.

“There was clearly inequality of bargaining power between Uber and Mr. Heller,” the Supreme Court’s ruling said.

“The arbitration agreement was part of a standard form contract. Mr. Heller was powerless to negotiate any of its terms.”

A spokesperson for Uber said the company will amend its contracts to align with the court’s principles.

Class action next step

Heller’s proposed class-action lawsuit has not yet been certified. It aims to provide a minimum wage, vacation pay and other protections under Ontario’s Employment Standards Act to anyone who works for Uber or has worked for the company in Ontario since 2012.

Heller’s lawyer, Lior Samfiru, said the high court’s decision has wide implications for the gig economy, and starts the discussion about whether people in the free market are employees.

“We cannot have a system where companies can do whatever they want, whenever they want, without any repercussions,” Samfiru said.

“The only way that we can even balance that inequality somehow is by giving individuals access to tribunals, like the labour relations board, or to our courts across the country.

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