Uber said on Wednesday that it was formally recognising a major British trade union so that it can represent drivers.
The move was a breakthrough for labour campaigners seeking fairer working conditions from the ride-hailing giant.
The company, based in San Francisco, said it signed a collective bargaining agreement with the GMB, one of the UK’s biggest trade unions.
Under the agreement, the GMB will represent Uber’s 70,000 drivers across the UK.
The drivers will still be able to choose if, when and where they drive. Union membership will not be automatic; drivers will have to sign up for it.
“History has been made,” GMB national official Mick Rix said in a statement issued by Uber.
“This agreement shows gig economy companies don’t have to be a Wild West on the untamed frontier of employment rights.”
Uber and other app-based companies have been facing pressure across Europe to reform labour models that are often blamed for precarious jobs and low salaries.
The UK’s top court disrupted Uber’s business model by ruling this year that the company’s drivers should be classed as workers and not self-employed.
That entitled them to benefits including minimum wage, pensions and holiday pay, which the company has started to provide.
The GMB is more than 100 years old and represents 620,000 UK workers.
Another group that led the legal challenge, the App Drivers and Couriers Union, received the announcement cautiously.
“Overall, this is a step in the right direction but there are significant obstacles in the way of ADCU reaching a similar agreement,” it said.
They included disagreement with the way Uber calculates minimum wage and holiday pay, the union said.
The ADCU said it also had concerns about Uber’s motives, and that it was worried the company was seeking to use the “appearance of blunt collective bargaining agreements” to weaken the power of workers.
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