Deliveroo riders continue the battle for workers’ rights

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On 23 May Deliveroo riders fighting for union recognition and basic workers’ rights crowded into a packed courtroom before the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC). Deliveroo riders and the Independent Workers of Great Britain union (IWGB) are fighting to gain a collective bargaining agreement. If they succeed, Deliveroo will be forced to negotiate pay and conditions for their riders with the IWGB.

Deliveroo argues that its riders are ‘self-employed independent contractors’ – and therefore not eligible for most employment rights. Collective bargaining rights in Britain are only granted to ‘workers’ (like self-employment but with core workers’ rights – usually casual or agency workers) and ‘employees’ (with full employment rights). Therefore the CAC has to decide whether Deliveroo riders are ‘workers’ or ‘self-employed independent contractors’. As ‘workers’, Deliveroo riders would receive the right to the minimum wage, paid holidays and protection against discrimination. Deliveroo has saved millions by limiting rights for its workers, which explains why Deliveroo and its team of eight lawyers at the CAC are so opposed to this collective bargaining agreement.

During three days of evidence, it was heard that Deliveroo had lied to riders in a ‘campaign of misinformation’ which consisted of phone calls, emails and petitions. Riders were told that they could be a ‘worker’ and be ‘self-employed’, when in fact the former is a sub-category of the latter. Riders were also told that they would effectively be punished should the union win and be forced, among other things, to wear uniform – all attempts to try and reduce support for the union. It also became clear that two weeks prior to the start of the case Deliveroo had issued new contracts to its riders in a blatant attempt to try and disrupt the union’s case.

While giving evidence, a Camden Deliveroo rider said: ‘I believe the new contract was issued for the sole purpose of trying to tick boxes to disprove the fact that I am a worker.’ Within the new contract a large section is dedicated to riders being allowed to use a substitute to do their work for them (something a ‘worker’ wouldn't have the right to do). The union’s lawyer John Hendy QC told the CAC that this was ‘completely unreal’ and would put Deliveroo in breach of health and safety legislation. This simply highlights Deliveroo’s ‘by any means necessary’ approach to kill the ‘worker’ question and any form of organising by its riders, which has also consisted of spying on the union and even sacking a rider because of their union activity.

Deliveroo riders and the IWGB will return to the CAC on 26 June to hear the lawyers’ closing statements. They are confident that the panel of judges at the CAC will see through Deliveroo’s lies, following the recent Uber case ruling that Uber drivers are ‘workers’. Such a decision would send shockwaves not only through Deliveroo but through the whole ‘gig economy’.

Billy Rapley

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 258 June/July 2017