Canadian Supreme Court Rules Against Uber: Must Settle Disputes in Canada

The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled ruled against Uber and said that arbitration disputes must be handled in Canada. A $400 million class action lawsuit could follow.

You’ve been working in a gig economy job. Suddenly, the online service sends you a message saying that a new contract is being put forward. You’re choice is either accept the new contract or don’t get paid. You don’t have a union representing you, so that important element is out the window. If you dispute it, you must travel a good portion around the world and take the company to court in a far away country. The question is, can an online company do that to their employees?

It is that question that the Supreme Court of Canada had to decide on: can a company simply tell the employee where they can settle any kind of dispute? In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the company cannot and the arbitration must take place here in Canada. The decision has major implications because this paves the way for a $400 million class action lawsuit against Uber. From the CBC:

Uber had challenged an Ontario Court of Appeal decision that found the company’s contract clause, which relies on a costly arbitration process in the Netherlands to settle disputes, was “unconscionable” and “unenforceable.”

In November 2018, Ontario’s highest court ruled Uber’s clause amounts to illegally outsourcing an employment standard.

Uber maintained that arbitration, not the courts, is the right forum for deciding the validity of an arbitration agreement.

The proposed class-action lawsuit, which has not yet been certified, 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.

The hope is that Canada is moving towards a more fair system for employees who find themselves in the gig economy. From another article from the CBC:

Phillips, who has been an Uber driver for five years, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off. Here is part of their conversation.

As far as what you were looking for, how close does this come to a victory for you?

It’s absolutely a victory to have the arbitration clauses struck down as unfair, unconscionable, unenforceable, because that meant that we had no avenue to pursue any injustices or unfair practices.

Give us a sense of what you’re trying to achieve, not just with this court case, but in general. What are you pursuing for Uber drivers?

There’s a mixed bag of what people want. I personally don’t want to be classified as an employee, but I’m not an actual independent contractor. So I’m looking for, you know, laws to change to a middle ground.

There has to be an update to labour law to accommodate or to reflect the new reality of the labour market. We’re actually stuck in between [being classified as] an employee and an independent contractor.

At this point, the class action lawsuit hasn’t been certified, so there are still hoops to jump through still. However, for most labour minded people, this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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