In recent months, gig economy companies, under fire from unions, have been forced to improve their treatment of workers. DPD now pays at least £8.75 an hour and has abandoned its £150 charge for being absent from work. This follows the death of Don Lane, a delivery driver so terrified of the charge that he avoided hospital appointments and died from his illness. Meanwhile, Deliveroo recently offered its riders medical insurance if they are involved in an accident while working. The insurance will cover medical expenses up to £7,500 and will also protect up to three quarters of average gross income.

But while these changes are welcome, power in the workplace remains concentrated in the hands of the employers. The gig-economy companies have resources, hoard data and benefit from the one-sided nature of employment law. Workers are left fighting an uphill battle, in conditions which isolate them and make collective action difficult. Deliveroo and several other gig-economy companies continue to pay poverty wages and refuse their riders legal status as workers’, thus denying them basic rights like minimum wage, holiday pay and the right to unionise. 

Deliveroo drivers
Photo: Jack Saville

Judges who preside over the increasing numbers of legal battles being fought by unions frequently rule in favour of the employers. A stark example is the recent High Court decision that not only refused Deliveroo couriers a right of appeal in their battle to have their union, the IWGB, recognised for bargaining purposes, but saddled the small union with £10,000 of Deliveroo’s legal fees.

The IWGB are challenging this ruling. On the 12 June, they will go to court to try to overturn the decision on the right to appeal, and are seeking to raise £50,000 through a crowdfunder to cover the cost of the court case.

The outcome will impact not just Deliveroo riders but all workers engaged in struggles in their workplaces. It will set a precedent — establishing in case law a ruling that those in the gig economy are not legally workers, and therefore do not have the same legal protections as those with worker status. The ramifications of this decision will be felt throughout the UK.

This systematic stripping of basic working rights is not limited to the gig economy: it has a much broader economic impact. These conditions have characterised the UK economy for ten years, and have made the current decade the worst for pay growth for over two centuries. Average pay is still much worse than pre-crisis levels. NEF research has also shown the strong relationship between declining trade union membership, lower wages and subsequently slowed growth on a national level.

Support the IWGB’s crowdfunder for their legal fight for better working conditions.