Is the gig up for Deliveroo?

Even the people who shy away from newspapers and change channel when the 10 o clock news comes on could not fail to have seen the headlines about Uber and their drivers’ battle to secure worker status. While today it is Deliveroo’s turn to face the music as the Tribunal meet for a third and concluding day.

In a case brought by the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (‘IWGB’), the Tribunal is considering a claim that Deliveroo incorrectly categorises individuals as independent contractors rather than workers. The IWGB hopes for a positive determination of employment status in order to force Deliveroo to negotiate for the purposes of collective bargaining on behalf of riders working in Camden. Previous attempts to unionise failed and so this decision could have far reaching consequences, not just in Camden, and not just for Deliveroo.

The decision will be eagerly awaited by Uber and City Sprint, amongst others, as they have both been recent ‘victims’ of the Tribunals’ determinations on worker status. I have previously commented that it has always been accepted that the Tribunals and HMRC will go beyond the contract to establish the actual relationship and employment status if this is called in to question, and I remain of the view that this is an appropriate safeguard to guard against ‘sham contracts’. Deliveroo have not helped themselves in this area by including a clause in their riders’ contract that specifically prevented them from challenging their employment status. They have since accepted that such a clause would be unenforceable and have recently pledged to remove it but it begs the question: why did they feel a need to include it in the first place?

For anyone who read the somewhat entertaining judgment handed down following the Uber preliminary hearing, you will know that a good degree of the criticism levelled at the ‘transportation network’ centred around the ever changing, fictional language used to avoid terms such as ‘employee’, ‘contract’ and ‘induction’. On that basis alone, Deliveroo must be apprehensive about how the Tribunal will react to their ‘Rider Vocabulary Guidelines’ because no business should need to explain to their workforce, self employed or otherwise, what the words in their contractual agreements mean.

It is possible that the judgment will be reserved, but whenever the decision is communicated, there is no doubt that the consequences will be felt deeply across the ever growing ‘gig economy’.


Featured in Legal Spill

This article was featured in the May 2017 edition of Legal Spill.

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