Deliveroo wins legal battle over riders’ employment status and bargaining rights

Deliveroo has won the latest battle in the long-running legal fight over the employment status of its riders after senior judges dismissed an appeal by a trade union.

The takeaway delivery app’s argument that the riders are self-employed and therefore do not enjoy the rights of “workers” has been backed by a series of court judgments.

It has been fighting a case dating back to 2017 brought by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which represents people working in the gig economy and for outsourcing contractors.

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April 2021: Why some Deliveroo riders ‘earn as little as £2 an hour’

The union sought recognition to engage in “collective bargaining” on behalf of a group of Deliveroo riders in north London.

But a series of rulings, now upheld by three Court of Appeal judges, have found that they cannot be classified as “workers” under trade union law.


Central to the decision is that the terms of their employment allow for “substitution” – meaning that they can ask somebody else to carry out a delivery for them.

That is a key difference between this case and a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year which forced Uber to classify its private-hire drivers as “workers”.

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Uber subsequently offered thousands of its drivers new employment rights such as holiday pay and pensions but made clear this would not apply to its Uber Eats takeaway couriers.

It was also forced to set aside $600m to resolve “historic claims” in relation to drivers.

Image: Deliveroo shares rose on the judgment

Giving the lead judgement in the latest Deliveroo case, Lord Justice Underhill acknowledged that the Court of Appeal’s decision “at first might seem counterintuitive” given the benefit for riders of being able to organise collectively.

But he said there was a distinction between the right to organise generally and the right to organise as a trade union, which enjoys specific legal protections.

Lord Justice Coulson, agreeing with the judgment added: “It may be thought that those in the gig economy have a particular need of the right to organise as a trade union.

“So I quite accept that there may be other cases where, on different facts and with a broader range of available arguments, a different result may eventuate.”

Deliveroo said the case “marks an important milestone”. Shares rose 9% on the judgment.

A spokesperson said: “UK courts have now tested and upheld the self-employed status of Deliveroo riders four times.

“Deliveroo’s model offers the genuine flexibility that is only compatible with self-employment, providing riders with the work they tell us they value.

“Those campaigning to remove riders’ flexibility do not speak for the vast majority of riders and seek to impose a way of working that riders do not want.”

The IWGB said it had not yet made a decision on whether to take the case to the Supreme Court and was assessing its options.

Alex Marshall, the union’s president, said: “Deliveroo couriers have been working on the frontline 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.”

Earlier this year, striking Deliveroo drivers protested outside its headquarters in London as they called for better pay and conditions.