Deliveroo defeats another workers' rights challenge in UK courts

·4 min read

Deliveroo has had another win in the U.K. courts, beating back an appeal by the IWGB union which has sought for years to challenge the gig platform over couriers' rights but has continued to fail to overturn the company's classification of riders as self-employed.

The latest appeals court ruling is the fourth judgment in the U.K. that supports Deliveroo's contention that its riders are self-employed, following earlier judgments by the Central Arbitration Committee and two at the High Court.

The on-demand food delivery platform operates a different gig model than ride-hailing giant Uber -- which has, by contrast, failed to prevent U.K. courts from judging its drivers to be workers not self-employed contractors.

Deliveroo, for example, allows riders to use a substitute to fulfil a shift with only limited restrictions on the practice. And the interpretation of how exactly employment law applies typically hinges on exactly such nuanced details as the level of flexibility being offered to platform workers.

Despite a string of legal loses against Deliveroo over the years, the IWGB did not give up its fight. Most recently honing in on the issue of collective bargaining and seeking to challenge the platform giant's stance under the European Convention on Human Rights -- by arguing riders have a legal right to form or join a union.

It hasn't had much success with this line of argument against Deliveroo either, though.

Today the U.K. Court of Appeal dismissed its latest appeal -- ruling that riders do not fall under the scope of the trade union freedom right set out in the European Convention of Human Rights.

Although the Court did suggest that riders do fall under "the more general right of freedom of association under article 11 [of the ECoHR]."

In conclusion the judges also make a point of noting that other gig economy legal challenges may have a different outcome, writing that: "It may be thought that those in the gig economy have a particular need of the right to organise as a trade union. So I quite accept that there may be other cases where, on different facts and with a broader range of available arguments, a different result may eventuate."

The IWGB's president, Alex Marshall, seized on this element of the ruling -- commenting in a statement:

The judgment recognises that riders would benefit from organising collectively to represent their interests and admits the conclusion reached in the judgment might seem counter-intuitive. We will now consider our legal position, but one thing is for sure: We will continue to grow in numbers and fight on the streets until Deliveroo gives these key worker heroes the pay and conditions they more than deserve.

In further remarks, Marshall attacked Deliveroo's stance toward riders -- claiming it has sought to "silence" their voices and deny them opportunities to negotiate better terms:

Deliveroo couriers have been working on the frontline of the pandemic and whilst being applauded by the public and even declared heroes by their employer, they have been working under increasingly unfair and unsafe working conditions. The reward they have received for their Herculean effort? Deliveroo continuing to invest thousands of pounds in litigation to silence workers' voices and deny them the opportunity to negotiate better terms and conditions. A recent investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed riders were making as little as £2 per hour. Is this the kind of pay workers would accept if they really were their own boss? It appears that when Deliveroo talks about flexibility and being your own boss, it is talking about the flexibility of choosing when to make poverty wages and work in unsafe conditions.

In a statement welcoming the appeal court ruling, Deliveroo claimed the contrary -- saying:

Today is good news for Deliveroo riders and marks an important milestone. U.K. courts have now tested and upheld the self-employed status of Deliveroo riders four times.

Our message to riders is clear. We will continue to back your right to work the way you want and we will continue to listen to you and respond to the things that matter to you most.

Deliveroo’s model offers the genuine flexibility that is only compatible with self-employment, providing riders with the work they tell us they value. Those campaigning to remove riders’ flexibility do not speak for the vast majority of riders and seek to impose a way of working that riders do not want. Deliveroo will continue to campaign for companies like ours to be able to offer the full flexibility of self-employment along with greater benefits and more security.

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