In recent news, it’s been announced that one of the UK’s largest trade unions, GMB - which is currently representative of over 500,000 workers - is taking legal action against ride-hailing app Bolt, in a bid to fight for the better rights of workers.
This comes as the 4.4 million strong gig economy (TUC) continues to dabble amongst bogus self-employment models, restricting workers of basic benefits and rights such as sick pay, holiday pay and a workplace pension.
The leading transport app Bolt is widely recognised for its ‘fast and affordable’ rides in over 400 cities and is often praised for the flexibility that it offers both customers and workers. Although the business claims to offer a number of perks to teams, it has been criticised for categorising workers as self-employed and therefore limiting their access to employee rights, pay and fairer working conditions.
Under English Law, a “worker” holds a “contract or other arrangement to carry out work or services personally for a reward, for example money or a benefit in kind” (GOV). Considering Bolt drivers carry out the ‘exact same’ duties as rival transport brand Uber, the GMB argue that its drivers should have the same rights granted to Uber drivers following the landmark Uber Supreme Court ruling in 2021.
After initially being offered an extensive amount of time to come to a voluntary recognition agreement, Bolt failed to agree to both collective bargaining and voluntary “worker” status (Financial Times), leaving GMB National Officer, Mick Rix with ‘no remorse’ for their decision to take matters legal.
Uber 2021 case
In March 2021, Uber announced the reclassification of all its drivers after the UK Supreme Court confirmed that their drivers were in fact “workers” and not self-employed. Entitling them to basic rights and protection, Uber proceeded to transform their employment model, providing “workers” with holiday pay, pensions, and a minimum earning guarantee.
Encouraging others in the gig economy to now follow suit, Uber are keen to support legislation that forces a level playing field with competitors such as Ola and Bolt (Financial Times). Emphasising the positive effects of the changes for their business, Uber suggest that providing workers with additional rights has not been financially detrimental to the business and continue preach that now is the right time for others to make the necessary steps in creating a fair workplace for their people (Financial Times).
Following the success of the case, Evri similarly made changes to their employment model whilst Deliveroo 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.
With this domino effect urging other significant businesses to finally take positive steps towards creating more acceptable working conditions for the UK workforce; Bolt continue to withhold. Continuing to praise their current employment model and its ability to provide drivers with the “opportunity to earn more” (Financial Times)
You can find out more details on the case here.
Multiple trade unions and workplace bodies including the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU), GMB and The Pensions Regulator have consistently encouraged gig economy companies to “do the right thing” and offer eligible staff access to basic rights (Financial Times). With several still unwilling to follow the changes, Charles Counsell, Chief Executive of The Pensions Regulator, has suggested that the only way to fix this growing issue is to change the definition of a “worker” and enable simplification of how workers are categorised.
Currently, there are three employment status categories which each hold different rights - making it difficult for engagers to distinguish where an individual sits in terms of employment status and what rights they are entitled to.
If the Status of Workers Bill were to become law, it shall “create a level playing field for organisations who felt they were being undercut by competitors that denied workers their rights” and would ”diminish the area for such litigation and give workers more clarity around what they’re entitled to” (Personnel Today).
The coming months form a crucial part of how the gig economy is set to evolve in the future and will see a judgement which will detail the next steps for the case.
In the meantime, employers that are continuing to operate bogus self-employment models must be wary of the government’s plans to clamp down on these models and enforce hefty fines to those operating false self-employment.
Businesses should therefore ensure that they are demonstrating full compliance and must consider role-based status following the actions of Uber, and where applicable, offer basic rights such as sick pay, holiday pay and workplace pension to avoid any undue financial or reputational damage.
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