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Gig Economy news: ET rules bicycle courier classed as worker

View profile for David Williams

Following the Uber judgment late last year, 2017 opens with more implications for the “gig economy” – the handle given to the increasingly popular working arrangement whereby people work on a job-by-job basis, often facilitated by smartphone.

A bicycle courier with logistics firm CitySprint has now won her claim in the employment tribunal to be classed as a worker rather than self-employed. As with the similar ruling in the case against Uber, the tribunal found that she should be entitled to basic rights such as sick pay, holiday pay and the national living wage. The judgement could see a flood of claims from couriers working across London and other major cities under similar “on-demand” arrangements.

As well as the facts, there is another similarity to the Uber case. The Uber judgment made clear the Tribunal’s view of the company’s attempts to describe its offering as a technology platform only: “…it seems to us that [Uber’s] general case.…the notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous”.  Tribunal Judge Wade was equally as damning in the CitySprint judgment, calling the company’s contractual arrangements “contorted”, “indecipherable” and “window dressing”.

It appears that Deliveroo is next on the hit list with reports of its couriers discussing potential legal action with the same law firm that represented the Uber drivers. Coming just two months after a union requested that the company recognise it as representing the takeaway app’s riders for the purpose of gaining worker status, Deliveroo’s employment woes seem to be ramping up.

In the meantime, the cases act as a salutary reminder to businesses of the importance of looking behind the labels given to working arrangements. If the relationship looks and feels more like a “worker” or even an “employee” relationship, but the contractual terms seek to deny the workers even basic rights, then there is a real risk that the terms will be challenged – successfully – in the tribunal.