Deliveroo Returns to the Spotlight in UK Gig Economy Debate

Deliveroo Returns to the Spotlight in UK Gig Economy Debate

Deliveroo, an Uber-like platform that connects restaurants with delivery workers, is one of several UK companies whose employment practices have been the subjects of public scrutiny and litigation over the past two years as the country wrestle with the contradictions between its existing labor laws and the rise of the “gig economy.” Deliveroo was sued last year by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which argued that delivery couriers working through its platform were not self-employed independent contractors as the company contended. While plaintiffs in other gig economy classification suits have succeeded in the British court system, Deliveroo prevailed last November, when the Central Arbitration Committee found that its delivery workers were indeed self-employed, because they had a contractual right to allocate a substitute to do the work for them.

The IWGB appealed to the High Court of Justice, however, from which the union secured a ruling last week that it could pursue a partial judicial review of the CAC’s decision as a human rights issue, TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas reported on Thursday:

[T]he judge only gave permission for a judicial review on “limited grounds”, relating to whether certain categories of self-employed individuals should have the ability to unionize. “We have been given permission to argue that Deliveroo is breaching the human rights of our members. This is no longer an employment rights matter, this is a human rights matter,” a union rep said outside court after the ruling. …

Commenting on the High Court decision today, a Deliveroo spokesperson said: “The court has allowed a limited challenge on human rights grounds. Deliveroo has long argued that the self-employed should have access to greater protections, and we welcome any debate on how that can best be achieved.”

Notably, the High Court upheld the central finding of the CAC that the substitution clause in Deliveroo riders’ contracts was sufficient to classify them as self-employed—a claim the IWGB also contested. Nonetheless, collective bargaining rights for independent contractors would represent a significant change in the regulatory landscape of the gig economy in the UK and create new challenges for British companies using the independent contractor model.

Another case against Deliveroo is set to be heard in a labor tribunal next month, the Guardian‘s Sarah Butler adds, with 20 more riders contesting their classification and demanding rights such as the minimum wage, paid sick leave, and holiday pay. Meanwhile, Parliament is conducting an inquiry into the company’s employment practices as part of its broader investigation of the gig economy:

Frank Field MP, chairman of the work and pensions committee, which has already taken evidence from workers at Hermes, Uber, DPD and Parcelforce, will now gather evidence from Deliveroo riders over the next five weeks. The inquiry will include a round table at which the takeaway delivery service’s workers will give oral evidence. Field will also be writing to Deliveroo to gather evidence about pay and conditions for its cyclists and moped riders.

“The weight of the evidence I’ve seen shows that bogus self-employment is being peddled by those who benefit so handsomely from the gig economy, to avoid the obligations they have to their workforce,” Field said. “I now wish to see if this is a partial view or whether it, sadly, represents what is going on in yet another company operating in the gig economy.”