LONDON — Uber lost a high-profile legal battle as Britain's Supreme Court ruled Friday that its drivers are "workers," a judgment that lawyers said could require Uber to dish out significant sums to its drivers in the United Kingdom and could have wider implications for the gig economy.

The ruling means that Uber drivers are entitled to minimum wage, vacation pay and other legal protections.

Lawyers representing the Uber drivers who brought the case say that “tens of thousands” of drivers in the U.K. could be entitled to 12,000 pounds (nearly $17,000) each in compensation.

In 2016, an employment tribunal in Britain ruled that Uber drivers were “workers” and, as such, entitled to workers’ rights. Uber appealed that ruling, arguing that drivers were “independent, third-party contractors.”

But Britain’s Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, unanimously rejected Uber’s appeal, saying that drivers are “workers” from the moment they log on to the app until they log off.

In the judgment, George Leggatt, one of the court’s seven judges, wrote: “The employment tribunal was, in my view, entitled to conclude that, by logging onto the Uber app in London, a claimant driver came within the definition of a ‘worker’ by entering into a contract with Uber London whereby he undertook to perform driving services for Uber London.”

Uber said that the judgment doesn’t reclassify all of its U.K. drivers — there are 60,000 — as workers. But, in a statement by Jamie Heywood, its regional manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Uber said it respected the ruling and “will now consult with every active driver across the UK to understand the changes they want to see.”

Mick Rix, a national officer for the GMB trade union, said in a statement, “This has been a grueling four-year legal battle for our members — but it’s ended in a historic win.”

He added: “The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of three previous courts, backing up what GMB has said all along; Uber drivers are workers and entitled to breaks, holiday pay and minimum wage.”

Lawyers for the Uber drivers will return to the employment tribunal and request compensation.

“GMB will now consult with our Uber driver members over their forthcoming compensation claim,” Rix said.

Uber has faced a number of setbacks in countries around the world, including Britain, where it has repeatedly clashed with London’s transport authorities and the city’s traditional black-cab drivers.

A spokeswoman for Leigh Day, the law firm representing the Uber drivers, said that the ruling could impact another of its cases involving a separate taxi and courier company.

In addition, she said, other firms operating a similar business model “may choose to be proactive and begin providing workers’ rights in order to avoid similar cases being brought against them. If their working models are very similar to Uber, it will be difficult for them to defend these types of claims now that Uber has lost at the Supreme Court.”

Abdurzak Hadi, 42, a London-based Uber driver, told The Washington Post that the ruling was “the end of exploitation.” Hadi is one of the 19 claimants who originally brought the case against Uber. He said he’s hopeful that, going forward, if a driver doesn’t earn minimum wage, then Uber would have to make up the difference.

He also noted that the current lockdown because of the coronavirus has been hard on Uber drivers. He said he worked a full shift Tuesday and earned 20 pounds, and then clocked a full day Wednesday, but didn’t get a single fare.

The streets of London, where he has worked as an Uber driver for six years, “aren’t quiet — they are dead.”