Jobs | Deliveroo wins Supreme Court case against union over employment status of riders
Deliveroo riders cannot be classed as “workers” and do not have the ability to form a union, the UK’s top judges have decided in a major ruling for the gig economy.
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) fought a seven-year legal battle over the status of the food delivery giant’s army of couriers.
It argued they should be considered “workers” rather than “self-employed” and able to form a collective bargaining unit, relying on article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights to mount the legal challenge.
But Lady Rose, announcing the court’s decision, said the contracts Deliveroo has with its riders include arrangements that mean it is not an “employment relationship” that would attract union rights.
She said riders currently have the “unfettered right” for someone else to substitute in for their deliveries, and Deliveroo does not police those arrangements.
Under usual employment terms, you are “not allowed to send someone along to do the job for you”, she said, and added that Deliveroo riders can also pick and choose when they work.
“Deliveroo doesn’t object to riders working at the same time for Deliveroo’s competitors”, the judge added.
The Supreme Court decision is a major setback for those fighting for employment rights in the gig economy, which has been likened to the “Wild West”.
IWGB brought the case on behalf of Deliveroo riders in Camden and Kentish Town, and victory would have set an important precedent for the company’s estimated 90,000-strong workforce as well as others in the wider gig economy.
The union wanted to negotiate improvements for Deliveroo riders on pay, working hours, and holiday entitlement.
In the lengthy legal battle which began in 2016, IWGB first took their case to the Central Arbitration Committee but it declined to accept their application for collective bargaining status.
That decision was then upheld by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
The union’s fight was bolstered by a 2021 Supreme Court ruling that Uber drivers should be classed as “workers”, giving them employment rights under UK law.
However the terms of the deals that Deliveroo strikes with its riders meant the same status does not apply.
Last year, the firm announced a deal with the GMB union, guaranteeing minimum earnings and annual negotiations over working conditions.
Today’s Supreme Court decision was delivered by Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Briggs, Lord Stephens, Lady Rose, and Lord Richards, and follows a two-day hearing in April.
Yvonne Gallagher, partner at law firm Harbottle & Lewis said: “The decision would seem to bring to an end any argument that Deliveroo riders are “workers” for the purposes of any UK employment protection legislation, since the term is defined in a broadly consistent way across a number of statutory provisions.
“More broadly, the case upholds the fact that national governments have considerable flexibility in defining the groups of employees and workers to whom statutory protections apply, and in many cases, the use of substitution clauses means that gig workers will not attract such rights.”
“This is a fundamentally important ruling for the gig economy, not just for Deliveroo. In establishing that the substitution clause works as a proof that riders cannot be considered workers, the Supreme Court ruling may give rise to other gig economy companies following the Deliveroo employment approach – where it fits their commercial model.”
In a statement, Deliveroo welcomed the judgment as “positive” for its riders.
“Thousands apply each week to work with Deliveroo because they want to be able to decide for themselves when, where and whether to work. We are proud to be able to offer tens of thousands of riders this flexibility alongside the security of free insurance, sickness coverage, support for new parents and a unique union recognition agreement.
“We will continue to listen to and work with riders to offer them the work they tell us they want.”
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