Earlier this week, the UK Supreme Court ended a seven year legal battle and ruled that Deliveroo riders cannot be recognised as employees or represented by trade unions for the purpose of compulsory collective bargaining.
The case was brought by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) in 2017 on behalf of the Deliveroo Riders following attempts to challenge pay and working conditions. However, the Central Arbitration Committee dismissed the case, stating that riders were self-employed due to their ability to use substitutes. Unsatisfied, the IWGB appealed through the courts, ultimately reaching the Supreme Court in April 2023.
The unanimous judgment emphasised that the contracts between riders and Deliveroo did not establish an “employment relationship.” Crucially, riders had the freedom to use substitutes for their deliveries without the involvement of Deliveroo. The court highlighted that this ability to reject offers, make themselves unavailable, and work for competitors was inconsistent with the concept of an employment relationship, but reflected self-employed status.
Deliveroo welcomed the decision, stating that it was a “positive judgment” for its riders. The company asserted that many of its riders choose to work with Deliveroo for the flexibility it offers, allowing them to decide when, where, and whether to work.
While Deliveroo views the ruling as a victory, the IWGB expressed disappointment, emphasising the need for key protections for thousands of riders.
Deliveroo reported that in 2021, it entered into a “voluntary partnership agreement” with the GMB Union. This agreement granted GMB collective bargaining rights concerning pay, consultation, benefits, and various other matters whilst maintaining the riders self-employed status.
The repercussions of this judgment go beyond the confines of the gig economy. The publicity surrounding it has the potential to draw attention to the advantages and disadvantages of employment status, prompting any worker who might wish to challenge their employment status in pursuit of enhanced rights and protections. When assessing worker status, take into account the following considerations:
- Degree of Control: To what extent does the company exert control over the worker’s actions and decisions on a day to day basis?
- Substitution: Can the worker delegate their tasks to a substitute, or is personal service mandatory?
- Mutuality of Obligation: Is there an obligation for the company to provide work, and is the worker required to accept it?
- Practicalities: Is the worker treated the same way as employees? Are they subject to employment policies and procedures? How are they paid? Etc.