Taxi and courier firm Addison Lee has lost a case in a London employment tribunal over its treatment of “gig workers”, as a judge ruled a bicycle courier should not be classed as an independent contractor without rights to holiday pay or the national minimum wage.
Chris Gascoigne, who used to work as an Addison Lee courier, brought the claim for £800-worth of holiday leave. He claimed he had been treated as a worker, and so was entitled to certain rights, but Addison Lee argued Gascoigne was actually an independent contractor.
The employment judge, Joanna Wade, was not convinced by the taxi firm's arguments. Even though Gascoigne's contract with Addison Lee expressly classed him as an independent contractor, she judged that the working relationship was in fact much closer.
He worked “under a contract” where he was “expected to carry out work” for Addison Lee “under its direction, when logged into the system”, Wade said in her judgement.
She added: “He performed the work personally, and not because Addison Lee was his client or customer.”
The case law on “gig work”, where employees work more flexibly but get fewer rights in return, seems to be getting progressively stricter on employers.
Wade also judged cases this year brought against CitySprint, Excel and eCourier, which resulted in similar conclusions. All claimants in these cases were backed by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, as was Gascoigne.
What's the problem?
The differences between “worker” and “independent contractor” originated in law because it was deemed that some people benefited from the flexibility which fewer rights and obligations afforded them.
Gascoigne, for example, would take time away from his courier job to go on tour with his band or do gardening work for a neighbour. Added to that, the contract stated that Gascoigne should let Addison Lee know of a morning whether he would be working – he often did not, and was never penalised.
Addison Lee has not yet decided whether to appeal, and declined to comment on whether this could affect the way it has to pay its couriers in future, but said in a statement:
We note the tribunal's verdict, which we will carefully review. Addison Lee is disappointed with the ruling as we have always had, and are committed to maintaining, a flexible and fair relationship with cycle couriers.
The ruling follows hot on the heels of the Taylor Review, a government-backed investigation into the gig economy.
It concluded amongst other things that workers should be renamed “dependent contractors”, so deeper clarity would be given to the status of people such as couriers.