The gig economy has again come under the spotlight as Labour MP Frank Field announced an inquiry into pay and working conditions at controversial food delivery firm Deliveroo this week (June 18).
Field, who serves as chair of the work and pensions committee, will gather oral evidence from Deliveroo riders over the next five weeks, after already having collected testimony from other workers in the gig economy, including those working for Hermes, Uber, DPD and Parcelforce.
Field will also write to Deliveroo to gather evidence from the company itself about how it pays and treats its workers.
The Labour MP criticised gig economy firms.
“The weight of the evidence I’ve seen shows that bogus self-employment is being peddled by those who benefit so handsomely from the gig economy, to avoid the obligations they have to their workforce,” Field said. “I now wish to see if this is a partial view or whether it, sadly, represents what is going on in yet another company operating in the gig economy.”
The inquiry comes as Deliveroo cyclists and moped drivers won the right to a judicial review on Friday (June 15) of a Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) decision in November that said the workers were not entitled to union representation.
The CAC argued that because the Deliveroo riders could pass on their job to a substitute and weren’t obliged to work, they shouldn’t be classified as workers with a right to collective bargaining – an argument that the high court called into question on human rights grounds. The Deliveroo workers, represented by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) are now expected to launch the review by the end of the year.
In a separate employment tribunal action next month, about 20 Deliveroo riders will be seeking enhanced employment rights such as the minimum wage and holiday pay.
News of the judicial review and impending employment tribunal follows a legal victory for a Pimlico Plumbers worker last week (June 13) after the Supreme Court ruled that the plumber, who had worked solely for the firm for six years, was not, as his employer said, a self-employed contractor.
Instead, the court ruled that the man was indeed a worker and was entitled to rights such as holiday and sick pay. The case is the latest victory among many that will have future ramifications for the gig economy and insecure work.
It comes just one week after an important legal victory for Unite member and pipe fitter Russ Blakely who was also embroiled in a legal battle over being bogusly self-employed. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled that Blakely was indeed a worker and not self-employed. The case was also a blow against umbrella companies common in the construction industry.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner hailed Field’s investigation of Deliveroo.
“The latest inquiry into Deliveroo pay and employment practices is welcome and follows on from the important work Unite and other unions are doing, in concert with the Labour Party, to tackle the gig economy head-on,” he said.
“Far too many people are barely eking out a living in low-paid, insecure jobs – whether it’s zero- or short-hours contracts, bogus self-employment, agency work or any of the multiplying varieties of precarious work arrangements,” Turner added. “The ‘flexibility’ that gig economy firms all-too often crow about is flexibility only for bosses, while workers are left not knowing from one week to the next whether they’ll be able to pay their rent or put food on the table.
“Instead of a tap on the shoulder or the brass tally of the docks from decades ago, workers are left waiting for a text or the beep of an app to know if they have work.
“We cannot turn the clock back to the Victorian era. The government needs to put a floor underneath all workers’ rights. Otherwise living standards will fall even further and peoples’ working lives will become increasingly insecure.”