Deliveroo riders are not employees, Supreme Court rules

A union has lost its legal fight to represent Deliveroo riders (David Davies/PA)
A union has lost its legal fight to represent Deliveroo riders (David Davies/PA)

Deliveroo riders are not workers entitled to trade union rights such as collective bargaining, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) wants to represent Deliveroo riders in north London in order to negotiate on issues of pay, hours and holiday with the company.

After losing a bid for recognition at a specialist tribunal in 2017, the IWGB unsuccessfully challenged that decision at the High Court and Court of Appeal, and in April the union took its case to the Supreme Court.

However, in a unanimous ruling on Tuesday, five justices at the UK’s highest court dismissed the appeal.

In the judgment, Lord Lloyd-Jones and Lady Rose said they agreed with previous decisions that riders are not in an “employment relationship” with Deliveroo and are therefore not entitled to collective bargaining rights.

The justices said multiple factors, including that riders are free to reject offers of work and to work for Deliveroo’s competitors, are “fundamentally inconsistent” with such a relationship.

Part of the case focused on whether the arrangement between the food delivery app and its riders fell under the scope of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which covers the right to join trade unions.

Rejecting this argument, the justices said: “Clearly there is nothing in the UK legislation to stop the riders from forming their own union or joining the union as they have done.

Deliveroo riders protest
Deliveroo riders have protested against the pay and conditions offered by Deliveroo (Flora Bowen/PA)

“There is also nothing to prevent Deliveroo from engaging in collective bargaining with the union to seek to agree the terms and conditions applied to the riders if they so choose.”

They continued: “The issue is whether Article 11 requires the United Kingdom to go beyond that current position and to enact legislation conferring on Article 11 workers the right to require their reluctant employer to recognise and negotiate with the union of their choice.”

The IWGB’s initial application to be recognised for collective bargaining purposes was first refused by a specialist tribunal in November 2017.

The Central Arbitration Committee rejected the union’s application as riders were able to pass a job to a substitute, meaning they were not obliged to provide a “personal service” and could not be classified as “workers”.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, a Deliveroo spokesperson said: “UK courts repeatedly and at every level have confirmed that Deliveroo riders are self-employed, and this now includes the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country.

“This is a positive judgement for Deliveroo riders, who value the flexibility that self-employed work offers.

“Thousands apply each week to work with Deliveroo because they want to be able to decide for themselves when, where and whether to work.

“We are proud to be able to offer tens of thousands of riders this flexibility alongside the security of free insurance, sickness coverage, support for new parents and a unique union recognition agreement.

“We will continue to listen to and work with riders to offer them the work they tell us they want.”

In a statement, the IWGB said the ruling came as a “disappointment”.

It continued: “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.”

The union added: “Flexibility, including the option for account substitution, is no reason to strip workers of basic entitlements like fair pay and collective bargaining rights.

“This dangerous false dichotomy between rights and flexibility is one that Deliveroo and other gig economy giants rely heavily upon in efforts to legitimise their exploitative business models.”