In 2016, a coalition of 34 Kenyan Uber drivers filed a suit against Uber Kenya after, the coalition claimed, the company had violated an online contract.
According to the contract in question, the drivers were expected to transport customers at a minimum of $0.54 per kilometre, with a minimum fare of $2.71, with Uber Kenya making 25% of the total earnings of each trip depending on the profit.
However, later that same year Uber Kenya reduced the cost for minimum rate per kilometre to $0.32 and the minimum fare per trip to $1.81 in a move aimed at offering customers lower prices to compete with entities like Bolt which are growing from strength to strength in Kenya’s largest urban areas, according to Tech Cabal.
This lowering of rates and fares is the reason why the drivers took the legal route, as they claim that now, with Uber’s earnings still at 25%, they are unable to make profits as the drivers still need to maintain their vehicles to adhere to Uber’s standards. The drivers then took this believed contract breach to the High Court of Kenya.
Which Uber is Uber?
Uber Kenya responded to the lawsuit that, in fact, the drivers had not entered a digital contract with it and instead had contracts with Uber BV, a private company registered in Amsterdam, absolving Uber Kenya of any liability.
Following this, the plaintiffs spent the last several years in court trying to prove that Uber Kenya and Uber BV are in fact the same company, and now, at last, the High Court of the Eastern African country has finally made a ruling.
According to High Court justice Francis Tuiyott, Uber Kenya Ltd, Uber International Holding BV and Uber International BV have intricate links between the companies, and as such can be jointly sued.
Why the Obfuscation?
Uber has, since its inception, maintained a nebulous relationship with its drivers in order to lessen its own liability. The company’s insistence that its drivers are “independent contractors” has landed it in hot water across different countries and different legal systems.
In April, South African lawyers took the ride-hailing company to court seeking to force Uber to recognise its drivers in the country as employees ‘with benefits’ rather than contractors.
Many drivers in Kenya have it even harder to be distinguished as employees of the service. Uber employed over 12000 drivers in Kenya as of the end of 2020, and while many drivers own their own vehicles, those that cannot afford cars are employed by private sub-contracted companies that run their own group of vehicles.
Now, as the court has declared the suit can indeed commence, time will tell if Uber will compensate the drivers or even register them as employees if it is found in breach of contract.