Deliveroo urges change in law so it can offer benefits to self employed riders. Does it have a point?

Unions insist that there is more that it can do under the existing framework

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Friday 07 July 2017 12:59
Deliveroo riders on the streets
Deliveroo riders on the streets

Some good news for those working in the gig economy? Deliveroo, an app which employs a small army of self-employed riders who deliver meals from restaurants to customers’ doors, says it wants to offer them the sort of benefits that those of us with more regular employment contracts receive as of right.

These include sick pay, paid holiday, pensions, the protection afforded by the minimum wage.

In a submission to a Government sponsored review led by Matthew Taylor, Tony Blair’s former policy chief, Deliveroo says it can’t offer these things because the law, as it stands, won’t allow it to. It hasn’t caught up with new ways of working, you see.

Deliveroo says an example of why it needs updating is to take account of the fact that it pays its riders by the job, rather than by the hour. It even suggests a new category of worker should be created for those working in what some would prefer you to call the “on demand economy”.

Unions, however, are unimpressed. The TUC, and the GMB, accuse Deliveroo of special pleading, and argue that there is more that it could do now.

It should, at this point, be noted that Deliveroo has hardly been free from the criticism thrown at gig economy businesses. It is, for example, involved in a tribunal that could determine the status of its workers, and has faced criticism from MPs over the terms in its contracts.

The company might still have a point with its call for new laws that clarify the status of self employed gig economy workers, and take account of the way they operate.

The law needs updating because it clearly has loopholes in it. It is these that have facilitated the rise of companies using lots of self employed workers that sometimes look very much like full time employees, just without their rights.

However, it is easy to see why unions feel that Deliveroo is being disingenuous with its call for this.

Legislation is, after all, rarely accomplished quickly, even at the best of times. These are not the best of times, with the Government already having drastically pruned its legislative programme. The only thing it seems to care about these days is Brexit. Other problems in Britain? They can go hang.

The creation of a new category of employee would also require long, and exhaustive consultations, before even getting to the stage of allocating Parliamentary time to it.

In other words, it could end up being years before Deliveroo and its ilk would have to worry about it, by which time the world will have moved on.

In the meantime, if it really wants to improve the lot of its workers, it should follow the union advice and focus on what it can do now. Plenty, they would argue.

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