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S.African Uber drivers join global push for worker rights -lawyers

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JOHANNESBURG, Feb 23 (Reuters) - A group of South AfricanUber drivers are to go to court to seek rightsincluding compensation for unpaid overtime and holiday pay,their lawyers said on Tuesday, hoping for a similar victory tothat of British drivers this month.

In both Britain and South Africa, Uber drivers are treatedas self-employed, affording them only minimal protections in law- a status the U.S. ride-hailing company sought to maintain inits long-running UK legal battle.

That ended last week when Britain's Supreme Court ruled thata group of 25 drivers were entitled to worker rights such as theminimum wage.

While Uber said the decision did not apply to all its600,000 drivers in the country, it was blow to the company'sbusiness model and a significant victory in battles being foughton many fronts against the so-called gig economy.

While businesses say that the gig economy offers flexibilityfor workers, trade unions among others say it is exploitative.

In November, however, Uber saw off a challenge in its homemarket of California, where voters backed a ballot proposal thatcemented app-based food delivery and ride-hail drivers' statusas independent contractors rather than employees.

The South African case could affect up to 20,000 drivers,British law firm Leigh Day and Johannesburg-based peer MbuyisaMoleele Attorneys said in a statement. They did not specify whenthe case would be filed.

Richard Meeran of Leigh Day, which represented the BritishUber drivers, said that case marked a final vindication fordrivers who had been denied their statutory employment rightsfor too long.

"We hope that this class action in South Africa will enableSouth African Uber drivers to access those same rights," hesaid.

Uber did not immediately respond to an emailed request forcomment.

The law firms pointed out that in South Africa Uber driversoften do not own their own cars and have to work long hours tomake ends meet on their current wages.

(Reporting by Emma RumneyEditing by David Goodman)