The Uber judgment from the UK ET, which was released, this afternoon is the first stage in what will no doubt become and important litigation for the future of the ‘gig economy’ in the UK. Employment lawyers will be the first to feel its impact (if my colleagues schedule of hastily arranged press interviews is anything to go by) but if this interpretation of the arrangement between Uber and its drivers stands in the UK it will also have an impact on competition law.
The first impressions of the judgment. on twitter at least, suggest that when a driver has the app switched on and they are accepting rides they are ‘workers’ for the purposes of UK employment law. This is controversial as Uber have always argued that the drivers are self-employed independent contractors and do not have a ‘worker’ relationship with the firm. If they are workers it will caused issues for Uber as workers have certain rights, for instance in relation to minimum wage and holiday pay, which Uber must ensure.
The finding of worker status for Uber drivers has an interesting positive for Uber outside the employment context. It protects Uber from a raft of potentially difficult competition law issues. The biggest ‘win’ for Uber in this regard is that the difficult question of how it is lawful for the Uber app to fix prices for ‘independent contractors’ is avoided. As the Uber drivers are now workers any agreement/arrangement they have with Uber on pricing takes place within an undertaking and competition law scrutiny under ART 101 TFEU, or its domestic equivalent, is no longer relevant.If Uber drivers were independent Uber would have had to make a difficult Art 101(3) argument that the common pricing structure, essentially a hub-and-spoke cartel of sorts, was a necessary part of its business model, and even with such a hard-core competition restriction the agreement worked to the benefit of consumers. It is not impossible to contemplate such an argument, but it would not have been any easy task.
Given that this is only an ET judgment there is still plenty to play for, as it is bound to go to appeal. The only certainty is that if the employment lawyers don’t get Uber, the competition lawyers will …
The news broke yesterday that the first fully contest trial in relation to the ‘old’ UK cartel offence results in both defendants being acquitted after the jury deliberated for “only a couple of hours”. As the ‘old’ cartel offence is no longer with us, being substantially amended in ERRA 2013, the wider impact of the acquittal might be perceived as being limited, but there are still lessons to be learned from what we know about the acquittal.
(By Scott Summers)
Since the latter part of 2014, the Conservative party has promised that if it won at the 2015 General Election, it would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and enact a new British Bill of Rights (BBR). Now that the Conservatives have won the General Election by achieving a majority in the House of Commons, this plan could come to fruition. Whilst many have discussed the potential legal implications of repealing the HRA, there is one area of contention that has been completely overlooked; namely, the impact that repealing the HRA will have on competition law proceedings. This blog post seeks to address this issue by considering the implications that repealing the HRA may have on s.188 of the Enterprise Act 2002, (hereafter, the ‘UK criminal cartel offence’).
By Bev Williamson
Premiership Rugby Limited (the PRL) is the company that commercialises premiership rugby union in England. Its CEO, Mark McCafferty, has publicly rejected claims that Premiership operates as a cartel. He relies on the fact that English rugby union utilises a system of promotion and relegation for determining which teams compete amongst the professional elite. That being the case, the PRL, which is made up of representatives of each of the Premiership teams, together with the sport’s governing body, the Rugby Football Union (the RFU), may have found ways to create a cartel by stealth.
There is currently an ongoing dispute between academic staff and employers in the UK pre-92 Universities regarding the running of the USS pension scheme. I don’t want to get into the debate surrounding the reasons for the dispute, but an interesting competition law question has arisen regarding several UK Universities’ near identical responses to the fact the trade union that represents academic staff, the UCU, have announced a collective marking boycott as part of industrial action protesting at proposed changes to the pension scheme.
Two recent judgments handed down by the CJEU show how difficult it can be for a Member State to involve itself in fixing minimum prices for products. Given the ongoing challenge to minimum alcohol pricing in Scotland it is interesting that in both these cases the Court ruled against the fixing of prices, but for very different reasons. Neither case is directly analogous to the Scots alcohol MUP referred to the Court in Case C-333/14, but there are perhaps lessons that can be learnt.
The mainstream UK news media has today been gleefully reporting the large fines imposed by the Bundeskartellamt in the German Sausage cartel. What struck me as interesting is why that cartel, above so many others has broken out of the financial press and made the headlines?
Prof Cosmo Graham, from the University of Leicester, just posed me that very interesting question.
The #OpCotton ruling yesterday stayed a large City fraud prosecution because the defendants could not find Counsel willing to represent them at the reduced VHCC (Very High Cost Cases) rates now offered in Legal Aid cases. Many, see for instance David Allen Green in the FT and Alan Wagner in the New Statesman, have pointed out this may mean that VHCC cases are effectively unprosecutable in the UK. I don’t know if a Cartel Offence prosecution would normally fall into this VHCC class.
I’m reading Daniel Sokol’s ‘Policing the Firm’ (2013) 89 Notre Dame LR 785, and I’m finding his discussion of the role of ‘stigma’ in cartel enforcement interesting.
It’s led me to think about compliance programmes. If firms want to be given credit for having an ‘effective’ compliance programme could the CMA/DG Comp insist that within that programme there are real sanctions in discipline, demotion, or dismissal for all officers or employees who were engaged in cartel activity?
Would that make a scheme a more effective part of creating the right corporate compliance culture?
What is the impact of the ‘legal advice’ defence to the cartel offence in s 188B(3) of the 2002 Act? Could it make it easy to escape prosecution?
This week I delivered my UG competition law lecture on Cartels. It’s an occasion I always enjoy and gives me an opportunity to approach the topic afresh on an annual basis [the feedback I receive is always extremely helpful too]. This year it was the first time that I had the opportunity to talk through the new defences to the UK cartel offence since the controversial ‘dishonesty’ element was removed by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. I have described one of the new defences inserted into the Enterprise Act 2002, the ‘legal advice’ defence in s 188B(3), as ‘bizarre’ in the new edition of our textbook, but in this post I want to set out what I perceive the problems to be. I want to develop these ideas into a longer piece, but for now I want to pose some of the questions I think need answering. My fear is that the ‘legal advice’ defence could become a get out of jail free card rendering the UK cartel a dead letter in all but the most extreme cases. Read More…