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Will Deliveroo now admit that its workers have rights?

Will Deliveroo now admit that its workers have rights?

Frank Field MP has launched an inquiry into the pay and working conditions at Deliveroo.

The Labour chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, which has already looked into working conditions at Hermes, Uber, DPD and Parcelforce, will gather evidence from Deliveroo riders over the next five weeks.

A full view

The process will involve a round-table. At this, Deliveroo riders will be invited to discuss their experience of working with the company. Field also plans to write to Deliveroo with a series of questions on riders’ pay and conditions.

“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.”

Fighting for basic rights

This latest development follows a ruling last week. That ruling gave the union for independent workers the go-ahead to contest the self-employed status of Deliveroo drivers.

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Bicycle couriers, drivers, ‘gig economy’ workers tend to work through an app. They get no set schedule and are paid on a per-job basis. At the moment, the companies that use them class them as independent business people with no employment rights.

Where the law stands on limb (b) workers

However, writing in an article for The Guardian, Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has said that, in law, they are limb (b) workers. That means they are self-employed individuals who are entitled to paid holidays, minimum wage and protection from discrimination.

In light of the recent supreme court decision against Pimlico Plumbers which found that Gary Smith was a limb (b) worker and entitled to employment rights, Moyer-Lee discussed what we should already know about the law:

Basic protections

“First, the concept of a limb (b) worker has actually done a remarkable job keeping up with the times. Introduced in its modern form as far back as 1971, decades before the technology behind the Uber app could have possibly been envisaged, it nonetheless recognises that today’s forms of employment – both modern and traditional – still need to provide basic protections.

“Second, to the extent that there’s any confusion about who should get employment rights, the cause is the companies not the laws. In another comment that could also easily apply across the board in the “gig economy”, the supreme court complained: “So Pimlico there put before the tribunal an irrelevant contract, cast in highly confusing terms, and now complains that the tribunal’s interpretation of them was highly confused.” I’m bolstered in this view not only by the fact that nearly every high-profile “gig economy” case of late has resulted in a loss for the company, but also in that Pimlico Plumbers itself lost its argument on worker status four times in a row.

Exploitation

“There is, however, one area in which this judgment does helpfully take us forward. That regards the requirement that you have to do your work yourself to be a limb (b) worker and can’t send someone else to do the job for you whenever you want. This issue has become the favourite focus of the courier companies’ overzealous corporate lawyers: you simply introduce a clause in the person’s contract saying they can have someone else do the work for them and you’ve miraculously transformed a low-paid bike courier into an independent business person! Luckily, tribunals and courts usually see through this nonsense, but every once in a while the company is able to get away with exploiting the loophole and the worker. [The Pimlico] judgment has closed the loophole. As long as the dominant feature of the contract is one where the individual does the work themselves – which is the case in every courier business model I’ve ever seen – then the person is still covered by those legal protections.

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