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  • An Uber driver holds his cell phone showing the queue to pick up passengers departing Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Feb. 13, 2017.

    An Uber driver holds his cell phone showing the queue to pick up passengers departing Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Feb. 13, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Alongside rivals Lyft, Deliveroo, and Amazon, Uber has spearheaded a push into the so-called "gig economy" – the latest depth plumbed by Silicon Valley in a "race to the bottom" for workers.

A judge in Brazil's biggest city ruled this week that a driver using the Uber ride-hailing app is an employee of the San-Francisco-based company, threatening its business model in one of its biggest markets as the company continues to come under fire for "exploitative" labor practices.

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Uber said it would appeal the decision on Tuesday by Judge Eduardo Rockenbach Pires at the regional labor court in Sao Paulo, which was made public in recent days.

"By connecting drivers and users, Uber creates thousands of flexible opportunities for generating income," the company said in a statement.

Pires ordered Uber to pay the driver US$25,000, including compensation for holidays, contribution to a severance fund and US$15,900 in "moral damages" related to attacks from taxi drivers upset with Uber's competitive pricing model.

The decision follows a similar ruling in a labor court in Minas Gerais state, along with parallel cases in the United States, Britain, Switzerland, and Europe's highest court threatening to subject Uber to higher costs and regulation.

The lower house of Brazil's Congress has also threatened Uber's business model with a bill requiring it and other ride-hailing apps to register with city authorities as conventional taxi services.

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President Michel Temer has pledged to veto parts of the legislation if it passes the Senate, despite the company, from its inception, being roundly criticized by workers in the transportation and transit industries for treating its employees as independent contractors who are not entitled to basic job benefits. Uber's global labor force have denounced the precarious nature of their employment and demanded compensation for job-related expenses such as vehicle maintenance and gasoline.

Alongside rivals Lyft, Deliveroo, and Amazon, Uber has spearheaded a push into the territory of the "gig economy" – the latest depth plumbed by Silicon Valley in a "race to the bottom" for workers who are increasingly facing a dearth of job security and an abundance of unpaid time waiting for their "flexible" bit of work to trickle through.

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