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Precarious work update - Addison Lee couriers are workers

THERE HAVE been recent developments in the world of precarious work that, while they are unlikely to affect freelance journalists, may have a positive impact on "false freelancing" work practices, where workers are freelance in name only, and on the gig economy in general.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) has thrown out an appeal by courier firm Addison Lee and ruled that its couriers meet the legal definition of "workers", which gives them rights including holiday pay.

The EAT ruled that there was sufficient "mutuality of obligation" between Addy Lee and one of its couriers when he was logged in to their app. The judgement stated, "Once a job had been sent through to him electronically the claimant contacted the controller to refuse it in exceptional circumstances only, for example if the parcel was too heavy to carry or he had a puncture. The expectation on both sides was that if he was given a job he would do it. There was no 'decline' button on the computer."

The Tribunal's conclusion was that the written terms of the contract (in which Addy Lee couriers were technically "self-employed") did not reflect the reality of the situation.

In mid-May, Deliveroo announced a scheme in which its 2000 employees working in its head office would be offered an employee stock options pot worth at total of £10 million, ahead of a possible stock exchange flotation. However, Deliveroo's self-employed riders were not included in the package. Presumably, their exclusion would help to support their self-employed status in law. Deliveroo did not rule out its self-employed riders enjoying some sort of share option in the future.

The Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) union, which represents Deliveroo riders, is currently seeking crowdfunding for a High Court case it is bringing against Deliveroo, following a surprise tribunal ruling that Deliveroo riders were self-employed and therefore did not have the right to collective bargaining through a trade union.

This ruling came a few weeks after Deliveroo changed its contract to "allow" riders to send a substitute in their place, one of the tests of being self-employed in law. It has been pointed out that a rider would have to carry out criminal record and immigration checks on their "substitute" to make use of their services. At the time of writing, IWGB needed over £20,000 of a total of £50k for legal fees with just over a fortnight to go. The Union are also seeking the right to a minimum wage, pensions and holiday pay, which they would be entitled to were they not "miscategorised" as self-employed.

Taxi hailing platform Uber announced at the end of May that it would offer a health insurance package to its drivers and riders across Europe, including Uber Eat riders. The package will cover sick pay, bereavement and parental leave. It will be paid out of the "commission" that Uber charge drivers and riders for the jobs they send their way. Until now, Uber couriers, categorised as "self-employed", have enjoyed no such benefits.

A culture of zero-hour contracts is not inevitable. New Zealand recently passed legislation banning zero-hour contracts "in most cases". A Bill that seeks to outlaw most zero-hour contracts in the Republic of Ireland is currently before a Parliamentary Committee.