Business Law & Compliance

Deliveroo on-demand staff are stepping up to the legal batting cage to gain workers rights

3 min read

08 November 2016

The end of October saw two taxi drivers win a case against Uber with the help of GM Trade Union for the right to be classed as “workers”. Many suggested it would open the floodgates to claims against similar firms with on-demand staff – and news about Deliveroo suggests the sentiment is true.

In his ruling about on-demand staff, judge Anthony Snelson wrote: “The notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is, to our minds, faintly ridiculous”.

He’s not the only one to think so. The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has sent Deliveroo a letter on behalf of its riders, asking that the same right be extended to staff there.

IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee claimed that if Deliveroo were to ignore or reject its request for on-demand staff then the IWGB would take the firm to an employment tribunal “and ask for a declaration that it must engage in collective bargaining”.

He added: “To do this the tribunal will also have to decide that Deliveroo workers are workers and not independent contractors, which means they will also be entitled to paid holiday, minimum wage, and all other rights associated with this employment status.”

This legal action, Moyer-Lee said, could indeed challenge the foundation of the gig economy, with TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady suggesting: “For many workers the gig economy is a rigged economy, where bosses can get out of paying the minimum wage and providing basics like paid holidays and rest breaks. What happened at Uber is just the tip of the iceberg. Lots of people are trapped in insecure jobs, with low pay and no voice at work. We need the government to get tough on sham self-employment.”

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That the case is being cited as the tip of the iceberg for both on-demand staff and the gig economy, comes as no surprise, explained Aaron Hayward, employment specialist at DJM Solicitors.

He is of the belief that the explosion of the gig economy means thousands of workers across the UK are engaged in temporary, casual work that doesn’t entitle them to workers rights, because they are officially classified as “contractors”.

“Next week Deliveroo drivers in Camden will carry out a final push to get over 50 per cent of drivers signed up to the IWGB unions, which will force formal union recognition from their employer,” Hayward said. “If they succeed, this will make it the first app-based employer to recognise a union in the UK. This will bring with it the potential of collective bargaining over pay and conditions, but first they must succeed in convincing a tribunal that drivers should be reclassified as employees as opposed to contractors as collective bargaining laws only apply to employees.

“This is an employment case that employers, workers and lawyers alike will be watching with interest. As we move more towards a ‘gig economy’ based on short-term, software-driven casual work, this issue isn’t going to away anytime soon.”