Deliveroo riders have been denied their human rights to collective bargaining, the High Court has heard in the latest legal case involving the so-called “gig economy”.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is attempting to overturn a ruling which found that the company’s riders are not entitled to collective bargaining rights because they are “self-employed”.
The union wants to represent Deliveroo riders in order to negotiate on issues of pay, hours and holiday with the company.
Last November, the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) rejected the IWGB’s application to represent riders in north London 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”.
But, at a hearing in London on Wednesday, John Hendy QC said the CAC failed to address the IWGB’s argument that the law which defines a “worker” must be interpreted in a way which gives effect to riders’ rights to collective bargaining under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mr Hendy said the right to the benefit of collective bargaining is “conferred on all workers and their trade unions”, adding that there were limited “categories of work” to which it did not apply, such as the police or armed forces.
He said the riders “want their union to bargain collectively with Deliveroo over their terms and conditions and, in particular, pay, hours and holidays”.
He added: “Deliveroo refuses to bargain collectively with this or any other union on behalf of its riders.
“Deliveroo is adamant that it, and it alone, will determine the terms and conditions without any input from its riders and on a take it or leave it basis.”
Mr Hendy said the key issue was “whether domestic law can be read in a way which prevents what appears to be a violation” of the right to collective bargaining.
He submitted that a restriction of the right to collective bargaining could be justified, for example, if it was necessary in order to protect the rights or freedoms of others, but added: “Plainly the impact of the restriction is disproportionate to any perceptible benefit.”
Mr Hendy said the “substitution clause” in Deliveroo’s contracts should not “preclude” riders from the right to collective bargaining, and that Article 11 must be read “so as to conclude that the right to bargain collectively is, indeed, that of ‘everyone’ with no exemption being permitted for the self-employed”.
In written submissions, Christopher Jeans QC, for Deliveroo, said the IWGB’s argument on Article 11 was “an afterthought” before the CAC, which “nonetheless expressly considered the belated Article 11 submission and did not accept it”.
He added that “whatever general rights they may have had under Article 11, the riders did not have the specific right to collective bargaining”, which only applied to “those in an employment relationship”, and therefore there could be no interference with that right.
But he said that, even if the riders did have that right, the interference was “plainly necessary … for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”, which included the “freedom of business and freedom to contract on terms the business chooses to offer”.
It also included, Mr Jeans added, “freedom from the imposition, including the consequences, of bargaining arrangements”.
He submitted that the IWGB needed to establish that Article 11 afforded Deliveroo riders collective bargaining rights, and that it was “impermissible” for UK law to exclude workers from those rights because they had no personal obligation to work.
He said the “limited nature of the interference” was significant, adding that the current definition of worker “merely prevents those who do not have to do work (or do it personally) from invoking recognition procedures”.
Mr Jeans argued that states were entitled to “define the circumstances” in which the right to collective bargaining applies, which in the UK requires an individual to “perform personally any work or services for another party” to be classed as a worker.
Mr Jeans concluded that the IWGB’s contention that riders with “no obligation to work”, and who can “appoint someone else to do any item of work” and work with a competitor, had the right to bargain collectively was “extraordinary”.
Mr Justice Supperstone will hear submissions over two days, and is expected to reserve his judgment.