The Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court judgment that Deliveroo riders are self-employed and therefore cannot be classified as workers.
The case was brought to a tribunal in 2017 by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) – a trade union representing those working in the gig economy.
On behalf of north London Deliveroo riders, the union sought to engage in “collective bargaining” to improve working conditions.
However, judges ruled that under trade union law, riders cannot be classed as workers because the terms of their employment allowed for substitution. This meant that these self-employed workers could ask someone else to carry out the services for them.
Substitution was a major factor in the verdict and a key difference between this case and the Supreme Court ruling in the Uber case, which found that drivers are workers and not self-employed.
Lord Justice Coulson said: “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.”
Responding to the judgment, a Deliveroo spokesperson said: “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.”
However, Alex Marshall, IWGB President and former courier disagrees with the ruling and Deliveroo’s view on flexibility.
He told Contractor Weekly: “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.
“[…] 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 talk 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.
“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.”
Marshall added that the IWGB will now consider whether or not it will take the case to the Supreme Court.
Employment status expert Seb Maley, CEO at Qdos, said: “This is a big blow to Deliveroo riders and many other gig economy workers who feel they deserve employment rights.
“[…] The case exposes the confusing nature of employment law, which leaves millions of people in no man’s land, unsure of whether they’re self-employed, a worker or employed.
“[…] The riders could provide a substitute, which was key in them being seen as self-employed. It means they didn’t deliver their services personally, as an employee does.
“But that’s not to say just having the right to sub in someone else shows a person is self-employed. A host of factors must be considered before employment status is set.”