CitySprint cycle courier wins workers' rights in a key gig economy ruling

Courtney Goldsmith
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This was a landmark case for the gig economy
This was a landmark case for the gig economy (Source: CitySprint)

A courier for same-day delivery firm CitySprint has won the rights to paid holidays and minimum pay in a landmark ruling by the central London employment tribunal.

CitySprint claimed its couriers were not employed but were independent freelancers, meaning they aren't covered by statutory protections like holiday pay.

But the tribunal ruled Margaret Dewhurst was not self-employed and is therefore entitled to workers' rights in the first of a string of legal actions against the UK's leading courier companies.

This judgement fell in line with the decision in October that Uber's workers are not self-employed.

CitySprint is one of the largest courier companies in Britain with a fleet of more than 3,000 bicycle couriers. It generated revenue of £146m last year, up 14 per cent on 2014.

Judge Joanna Wade called CitySprint’s contractual arrangements “contorted”, “indecipherable” and “window-dressing”.

Paul Jennings, who legally represented Dewhurst, said this was legally and ethically the right outcome in another case where the law is attempting to catch up with technology.

Until now couriers have occupied a vulnerable position. They carry out physically demanding work in dangerous conditions, but cannot take paid leave. In the wake of this judgement, we expect to that thousands of couriers across the capital will look to assert their rights and seek back pay.

Technology aside, the courts take a common-sense approach to these issues: if individuals are controlled, economically dependent and vulnerable to exploitation, basic protections should apply.

A spokesperson from CitySprint said they were disappointed with the ruling. "It is important to remember that this applies to a single individual and was not a test case."

CitySprint will review the judgement before making further comment. The spokesperson added:

This case has demonstrated that there is still widespread confusion regarding this area of law, which is why we are calling on the government to provide better support and help for businesses across the UK who could be similarly affected.

Similar challenges against Addison Lee, Excel and E-Courier are due to be heard in March and April 2017.

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