Deliveroo has told its riders that efforts by a union to seek workers rights such as sick and holiday pay puts their flexible work at risk in the latest gig economy row.
A group of riders represented by the Independent Workers Great Britain union (IWGB) are seeking official recognition that would give it the ability to negotiate workers rights in a case that will be heard on Tuesday.
The startup's UK managing director Dan Warne has emailed riders directly, telling them the company is "committed to protecting " flexible work that lets them chose shifts and work with rivals such as UberEats and Amazon Flex.
"If you were a worker as the IWGB propose, Deliveroo would no longer be able to run its business like this. You would be required to commit to fixed hours, giving up this flexibility of fee per delivery," the letter said.
"Of course, we believe that riders deserve more security. As we’ve said many times before, we want to see protections for our riders introduced through sensible policy. But that should not come at the expense of the flexibility that you care about so much," added Warne.
IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee branded the move "the dying throes of desperation of a company that has badly lost the moral argument and will soon lose the legal argument".
"The contents of the email are false and their only purpose is to scare the workers into submission on the basis of lies,” he said, adding that employment rights and flexibility are not mutually exclusive.
The case will be heard over three days by the Central Arbitration Committee with IWGB represented by the same law firm which brought a landmark case against Uber over workers rights, Leigh Day.
That case is subject to appeal by Uber after an employment tribunal ruling that drivers are not self-employed, but workers entitled to benefits.
Deliveroo claims just 19 per cent of those delivering via its platform in Camden, which the IWGB says it represents, support the action when support of 50 per cent is needed.
And several riders are set to argue against the union's bid for recognition which would give it collective bargaining rights on matters such as pay and benefits.
It's the latest row between startups and those working in the gig economy that has shot the matter to public attention and on to the agenda of government.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee's then chair Frank Field has branded companies such as Deliveroo, Uber and Amazon as "free-riding on the welfare state" and the contracts they hand out as "gibberish".
Deliveroo argues riders enjoy the flexibility and a survey of its workers at the end of last year found 84 per cent were happy or very happy.
A major independent review by Matthew Taylor on behalf of the government is due to report its findings on the gig economy and future of work this summer.
Deliveroo's letter to riders
Firstly, I want to say thank you for working with us. We’re incredibly proud to have so many riders out on the road, choosing to work with Deliveroo.
You may have seen stories in the media about a hearing that is taking place this week between Deliveroo and the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) about the way you work in North West London.
As you may have seen, the IWGB is demanding that Deliveroo riders be classed as ‘workers’ rather than self-employed. This week, we will be challenging this demand. And I’m writing to you today to explain why.
As a self-employed rider you work flexibly. You can log-in when you want, and choose to work for as long, or short, as you want. If you’re a student you can do some drops between lectures; if you work part-time, you can make some deliveries in between shifts. And if you don’t want to perform your deliveries personally, whether it’s a single drop tonight or a month off travelling, you can give your log in details to someone else to substitute in your place. Whenever I talk to riders, they always say that this flexibility is what attracts them to Deliveroo. And we’re committed to protecting that for you. If you were a worker as the IWGB propose, Deliveroo would no longer be able to run its business like this. You would be required to commit to fixed hours, giving up this flexibility of fee per delivery.
As a self-employed rider you can also work with multiple companies at the same time. Again, riders consistently tell us that this is important to them. We’re fighting to protect your ability to work with multiple apps at once. If you were a worker, this would have to change. When marked available, you would only be able to work for Deliveroo.
Of course, we believe that riders deserve more security. As we’ve said many times before, we want to see protections for our riders introduced through sensible policy. But that should not come at the expense of the flexibility that you care about so much.
The IWGB simply does not understand the way you work. They say they want to be recognised by Deliveroo as representing riders, but they don’t represent the vast majority of you at all. They have told riders that this committee hearing is an “experiment”. We don’t think that your livelihood is an experiment.
I know many of you have heard a lot of information about this from different people, which can be confusing. I want to be clear that our goal is to make sure that your interests - especially your access to work that is well paid and flexible - are protected.
Thank you again for all of your work with us and we look forward to continuing to ensure that as Deliveroo grows, you keep on benefiting from that growth.