The so-called “gig economy” is again under the spotlight as delivery firm CitySprint becomes the latest company to face a legal challenge over the employment status of its couriers.
Maggie Dewhurst, a CitySprint cycle courier is challenging CitySprint’s claims that she is an ‘independent contractor’.
At the employment tribunal, she told how a controller tells her where to pick-up from and where to deliver to. She also explained that there is an undercurrent of fear amongst couriers. Couriers should be able to turn down requests, but they fear doing so could jeopardise getting more work.
In a landmark case, a tribunal recently ruled that Uber’s drivers should be categorised as workers. As workers, the drivers should be paid the national living wage and receive holiday pay and other workers’ rights.
It was a judgement that could affect thousands of UK workers and has the potential to blow apart the gig economy. At the very least, it puts firms who have large self-employed workforces under increased scrutiny. Working practices have come under the microscope and experts predict that the Uber ruling could open the floodgates for more tribunal hearings.
There are similar tribunal cases on the horizon too. The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), who are supporting Maggie Dewhurst’s case, have submitted similar actions against eCourier, Excel and Addison Lee.
Deliveroo riders are also in the process of seeking union recognition so they can negotiate for improved pay and conditions. The riders are threatening tribunal action if their requests are refused.
The working practices of other delivery companies, such as Amazon and Hermes, have also come under scrutiny recently.
The end to the ‘gig economy’?
The gig economy has been popular as it offers flexibility to workers. In theory, it places self-employed professionals in direct contact with customers. For many, the flexible approach to working hours is very appealing.
In reality, it would seem from these recent cases that the ultra-flexibility of the Uber work model and the wider gig economy could be masking genuine exploitation of workers, as people experience an erosion of basic workers’ rights at the expense of the notion of freedom.