Deliveroo couriers latest to challenge the gig economy

Pedalling hard on the heels of a landmark legal ruling in favour of two drivers working for taxi-booking firm Uber, food takeaway couriers for Deliveroo are also taking on their employer over union recognition and workers’ rights.

An employment tribunal last month (October 2016) ruled that the Uber drivers who brought the case were ‘workers’ for the firm – with the right to holiday pay, paid rest breaks and at least the minimum wage – not ‘self-employed’ contractors who enjoy none of these basic working rights.

The tribunal remarked: “the notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our mind faintly ridiculous.”

These drivers took the ‘nuclear' option of going to tribunal, because Uber left them no choice. However, the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IGWB) and the Deliveroo couriers it is supporting hope their case can be resolved more swiftly and collaboratively. They’re seeking a collective bargaining agreement to allow the IGWB to negotiate pay and conditions on behalf of riders.  

But IWGB general secretary Dr Jason Moyer-Lee warns: “If Deliveroo ignores or rejects our request, then we will take them to tribunal and ask for a declaration that Deliveroo must engage in collective bargaining with us.

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

Just as the Uber victory has big implications for the pay and conditions of 40,000 Uber drivers, Deliveroo’s 8,000 riders in the UK also stand to benefit from being re-classed as ‘workers’. And like the Uber verdict, a successful Deliveroo negotiation would encourage thousands more ‘on-demand’ workers to seek to unionise, secure fair pay and rights, and help steer the gig economy away from exploitation.