A driver uses the Uber app to drop a passenger in London.

Chris J. Ratcliffe | Bloomberg via Getty Images

LONDON – Uber lost a crucial legal battle in the UK on Friday as the country’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling calling its drivers to be classified as workers rather than independent contractors.

The Supreme Court unanimously voted to dismiss Uber’s appeal against the judgment.

The verdict ends a nearly five-year legal battle between Uber and a group of ex-drivers who claim to be workers entitled to labor rights like minimum wage, vacation pay and rest breaks.

In 2016, a labor court ruled in favor of a group of ex-Uber drivers led by Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, who claimed they were employed by Uber and were therefore entitled to certain occupational health and safety.

Uber insists that its drivers are self-employed and act more like an “agency” connecting them to passengers through an app. Uber would like to keep the legal classification of its drivers as independent contractors unchanged, arguing that drivers prefer this “gig” model because it is more flexible – it also benefits Uber for cost reasons.

The UK case echoes Uber’s legal battle with California regulators over the past year trying to classify drivers from Uber and other hail services like Lyft as employees in an attempt to provide them with more employment protection.

However, voters backed an election measure called Proposition 22, which exempted Uber and other gig economy platforms from reclassifying drivers as employees.

The Supreme Court ruling may jeopardize Uber’s business model in the UK. The company must now return to the labor court to determine compensation for the drivers involved in the case. It could also face claims from thousands of other drivers in the country.

This also has a significant impact on the UK gig economy, which is believed to employ around 5.5 million people. Other companies running a similar model to Uber include Bolt, Ola, and Deliveroo.