Deliveroo riders lose trade union appeal in Supreme Court

Riders for food delivery company Deliveroo are not legally classed as employees and cannot rely on trade union protections, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Judges today unanimously rejected an appeal from the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) which had made a formal request to the delivery company to recognise the union for collective bargaining on behalf of riders.

The court held that riders were not in an employment relationship for the purposes of article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the lead judgment, Lord Lloyd-Jones and Lady Rose said the contract between Deliveroo gave riders a ‘virtually unfettered’ power to appoint a substitute for their shift. They do not have to work within specific working hours, their place of work is not specified or agreed and they are not required to be available.

‘Riders are thus free to reject offers of work, to make themselves unavailable and to undertake work for competitors,’ the ruling said. ‘These features are fundamentally inconsistent with any notion of an employment relationship.’

The judges said there was nothing in UK legislation to stop riders from forming their own union or joining one, just as there was nothing stopping Deliveroo from engaging in collective bargaining with the union. The ECHR gave states a wide margin of discretion for choosing to protect trade union freedom, and article 11 did not include a right to compulsory collective bargaining.

The IWGB said in a statement that the court’s ruling came as a disappointment after years spent fighting a legal battle to secure riders’ employment rights.

It said flexibility, including the option for account substitution, was no reason to strip workers of basic entitlement like fair pay and collective bargaining rights.

The statement added: ‘As a union we cannot accept that thousands of riders should be working without key protections like the right to collective bargaining, and we will continue to make that case using all avenues available to us, including considering our options under international law.’

Lewis Silkin partner Colin Leckey, supported by fellow partners Tarun Tawakley (himself Deliveroo’s former global head of employment) and David Hopper, acted for Deliveroo. The firm instructed Chris Jeans KC, Tom Cross and Raphael Hogarth of 11 KBW. The firm was instructed by Deliveroo’s in-house employment team, headed by Lauren Pullen-Stanley and deputies Heather Barc and Jenny Ramsey. 

Leckey said the result brings to a conclusion seven years of litigation in which Deliveroo had succeeded at every stage.

He added: ‘The Supreme Court decision provides welcome certainty for platform economy companies with highly flexible operating models in which individuals have genuine freedom about whether and when to work.

‘The question of whether such persons are ‘workers’ under domestic law had long since been resolved in Deliveroo’s favour, and now arguments based on human rights law have been finally decided for the company as well.’



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