Cornell International Law Journal


Uber (Firm), Ride-hailing services, Ridesharing


South Africa’s Uber dilemma has forced jurists to answer important questions about the country’s largest black-owned sector: the taxi industry. Since the days of apartheid, taxi drivers have struggled to secure their livelihoods. Lamentably, they have found themselves restricted by a legacy of oppression that, despite significant progress, lingers on. As of late, Uber has exploded onto the transportation market, and labor courts must decide whether Uber drivers fit within a system that never contemplated the emergence of gig economy companies. If future jurists continue to draw inspiration from South Africa’s highly progressive constitution, international agreements, and pro-union culture, it is likely that Uber drivers will soon see the day that a labor court classifies them as employees.

Accordingly, a hybrid or new labor classification for drivers is not a viable solution for the Uber dilemma. These classifications give equal weight to corporate interests and disadvantaged workers’ needs, and they fail to recognize the importance of protecting workers from businesses with far more capital and power. Moreover, although Uber claims that its business model has provided drivers with an avenue for entrepreneurship, these success stories ignore most drivers’ realities, which are characterized by long, grueling workdays and unsustainable wages. Hence, it is crucial for jurists to understand that hybrid or new classifications unfairly compromise the rights and needs of historically oppressed groups.

Ultimately, the struggle for labor and employment rights in the gig economy does not end here. Not all Uber drivers are vehicle-owners, and some vehicle-owners function as middle-persons between Uber BV and hired drivers. This situation raises questions about the existence of coemployment relationships and whether an employee classification only extends to some Uber drivers. An employee classification also complicates the situation for many foreign nationals who cannot find employment elsewhere. At some point, lawmakers will have to reconsider immigration and naturalization laws that have made it difficult for foreign workers to make a living in South Africa. Finally, there are countless issues related to driver and commuter safety that the State has yet to resolve. Recognizing drivers’ rights as Uber employees, however, is a step in the right direction.