But the Court of Appeal on Thursday upheld a High Court judgment on a 2017 decision by the Central Arbitration Committee, that because Deliveroo riders can pass a job to a substitute it means they are not obliged to provide a “personal service” and could not be classified as “workers”.
Delivering the ruling, Lord Justice Underhill said Deliveroo riders “are, genuinely, not under an obligation to provide their services personally and have a virtually unlimited right of substitution”.
This means they are not in an “employment relationship” with the delivery company, the court held, and “do not fall within the scope of the trade union freedom right”.
“Today is good news for Deliveroo riders and marks an important milestone”, the company said in a statement.
“UK courts have now tested and upheld the self-employed status of Deliveroo riders four times.
“Our message to riders is clear. We will continue to back your right to work the way you want and we will continue to listen to you and respond to the things that matter to you most.
“Deliveroo’s model offers the genuine flexibility that is only compatible with self-employment, providing riders with the work they tell us they value.”
The company suggested that campaigners “do not speak for the vast majority of riders and seek to impose a way of working that riders do not want”.
IWGB president Alex Marshall said: “Deliveroo couriers have been working on the front line of the pandemic and, whilst being applauded by the public and even declared heroes by their employer, they have been working under increasingly unfair and unsafe working conditions.
“The reward they have received for their Herculean effort? Deliveroo continuing to invest thousands of pounds in litigation to silence workers’ voices and deny them the opportunity to negotiate better terms and conditions.”
Mr Marshall added: “It appears that when Deliveroo talk about flexibility and being your own boss, it is talking about the flexibility of choosing when to make poverty wages and work in unsafe conditions.”
Today’s decision comes after a landmark Supreme Court decision in February that Uber drivers are “workers”, which was hailed as a landmark moment for the gig economy.
Commenting on Thursday’s ruling, employment lawyer Joe Aiston from Taylor Wessing said the Uber decision had “made people realise the gateway power of employment status”.
He said in spite of Thursday’s defeat for the union, the question of workers rights in the gig economy is “not going away”.
He said: “At a time when wildcat strikes and negative publicity via social media have the ability to strike at an employer’s commercial interests, the power is arguably to be found in the way businesses treat staff and manage their reputation."