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In November 2017, The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) - representative of migrant and gig economy workers – fought for the collective bargaining of rights for Deliveroo riders.

Designed to open up negotiations between a recognised trade union and an employer, IWGB sought collective bargaining in order negotiate a “worker” status for riders who are habitually categorised as self-employed and therefore have limited access to employee rights, pay and working conditions.

Under the English Law, a “worker” holds a “contract or other arrangement to carry out work or services personally for a reward” and has a limited right to send someone else to carry out their work (GOV). Since riders have the capability to freely substitute their deliveries - and therefore have work completed by others on their behalf – it was determined in June 2021 by the Court of Appeal (COA) that they cannot be classified as “workers”.

This month however - in a major development of the case - it has been announced that Deliveroo have now part signed a “landmark” agreement with trade union GMB, that offers over 90,000 self-employed Deliveroo riders in Britain the rights to collective bargaining on pay and consultation on benefits (Reuters). Described by GMB National Officer Mick Rix as "the first of its kind in the world", this collective agreement will give a voice to riders who up until now have had limited say in their arrangement with the food delivery giant (TUC).

A positive move towards protecting workers’ rights

The gig economy that the Deliveroo structure is based upon, forms a central part of the UK’s workforce and contains over 4.4 million people (TUC). Although gig work provides additional flexibility for workers, individuals working in this manner can notoriously be presented with long hours, insecure work and for Deliveroo riders, minimum wages as low as just £2 per hour.

Amongst pay talks, guaranteed earnings and representation in times of difficulty; the “first of its kind” voluntary agreement with GMB recognises the many challenges that come alongside being self-employed, and will allow an official trade union to represent individuals in disputes (Reuters). A pay floor will be discussed annually with the GMB union, providing riders with the certainty that their pay shall not fall below a certain rate.

These additions are set to provide additional support towards riders’ wellbeing, particularly as the cost-of-living continues to rise.

Backlash from trade union IWGB

Although the move provides a huge step towards improving workers’ rights, Deliveroo have been criticised for “side-lining” IWGB (Big Issue), who have consistently fought for the rights of Deliveroo riders since 2016. During this time, Deliveroo refused to form a partnership with any union due to concerns that collective bargaining with its riders would come at the cost of the flexible working frame that the ‘casual’ nature of Deliveroo operates on.

Despite this, IWGB have continued to play an instrumental part in fighting for the rights of workers and successfully won a number of important claims, including the implementation of sickness insurance, parental pay and access to toilets for riders.

The recent announcement from the world’s largest online food delivery service has been criticised for undermining the huge amount of work that the IWGB have contributed over several years and following the announcement of the new partnership with GMB, there has been criticism surrounding Deliveroo and their bogus attempt to protect workers’ rights. 

Representatives at IWGB claim that Deliveroo have made this “backroom deal” to simply protect themselves in the event that they lose at the final stages of the current appeal against the COA’s worker status determination. Dubbed as the “most protested food delivery platform in the UK” (IWGB) following a number of convictions and fines over infringement of employment law, there is a concern that this deal is being used as a tactic simply to manipulate the public into thinking the business takes workers’ rights seriously.

Described as a “hollow and cynical PR move”; the IWGB have raised alarm bells over the GMB partnership and its ability to negatively impact workers, and following the events of the Uber-GMB partnership, have called for the government to review relevant union recognition legislation and put a stop to voluntary agreements. With the number of people working in the gig economy nearly tripling in England and Wales over the past five years, it is clear that gig work paves the way towards a more modern and flexible way of working for the future, and issues surrounding voluntary union deals need to be tackled head on to prevent further cases arising in the future.

Employers should be partnering with endorsed union professionals that will represent the best interests of workers and will fight to win better working conditions for all.

View the Pimlico Plumbers employment status case here.