Union wins right to challenge Deliveroo on human rights grounds

The UK High Court has granted a union permission to challenge Deliveroo’s opposition to collective bargaining for its couriers on human rights grounds.

The IWGB union argues that couriers for the restaurant food delivery company should be classed as workers — who would then have basic employment rights such as the minimum wage, holiday pay and collective bargaining rights. Rights that gig economy business models are typically structured to avoid being saddled with.

Last year the union challenged Deliveroo’s employment classification of couriers. But a tribunal, the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), ruled the couriers could not be considered workers — finding they were independent contractors on the grounds that they had a genuine right to find a substitute to do their job for them.

Today the High Court partially lifted a legal block by granting permission for the union to seek a judicial review of the CAC ruling on human rights grounds.

Although the judge only gave permission for a judicial review on “limited grounds”, relating to whether certain categories of self-employed individuals should have the ability to unionize.

“We have been given permission to argue that Deliveroo is breaching the human rights of our members. This is no longer an employment rights matter, this is a human rights matter,” a union rep said outside court after the ruling.

“The IWGB was granted permission on the basis of its human rights argument to the effect that Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights means the British collective bargaining laws need to be applied in a way which covers Deliveroo Riders. If won, the case will have massive ramifications for the so-called ‘gig-economy’ and human rights in the UK,” the union added in a statement.

Collective bargaining rights for independent workers certainly could change the gig economy power game.

In 2016, for example, a group of Deliveroo couriers in London organized protests and strikes, after the company tried to impose a new pricing model. And Deliveroo stepped back from doing so after those protests.

Commenting on the High Court decision today, a Deliveroo spokesperson said: “The court has allowed a limited challenge on human rights grounds. Deliveroo has long argued that the self-employed should have access to greater protections, and we welcome any debate on how that can best be achieved.”

On the wider workers rights front, the union had argued the CAC erred in the facts and a matter of law when it ruled that the substitution clause in Deliveroo’s contract was genuine and therefore sufficient to make the couriers independent contractors. Though the High Court judge was evidently not swayed.

The union has been crowdfunding its challenge to Deliveroo via the Crowdjustice platform — and has raised just under half of the £50k target so far. However it appears that the judge also declined to put a cap on costs for the case, as the union had hoped.

The union had also sought to challenge the tribunal judgement by making referral to the Supreme Court’s decision this week against Pimlico Plumbers — another gig economy platform rights case — but Deliveroo points out the judge deemed that “not arguable”.

“The decision was reached having considered the recent judgment of the Supreme Court in the Pimlico Plumbers case, and emphatically rejects the union’s challenge based on this judgment,” said a spokesperson.

“Today’s decision has clearly upheld the central finding of the CAC, which is that Deliveroo riders are self-employed. This is good news for Deliveroo riders who value the ability to choose when and where to work.”

In the UK a group of Uber drivers successfully challenged the company’s classification of them as self-employed at a tribunal in 2016, going on to defend the decision against Uber’s first appeal.

And, in that case, although Uber continues to appeal the tribunal ruling, the company has pretty steadily been expanding the insurance products it offers drivers in the region.

Meanwhile the UK government is conducting a review of employment law to take account of tech-fueled shifts in work — and with the stated aim of expanding rights to more working people.