Deliveroo has been accused of making a “hollow and cynical PR move” aimed at preventing its workers from pursuing their rights by signing a “partnership deal” with the GMB union.
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which has been organising with Deliveroo couriers for over five years, claims that the “cynical backroom deal” aims to prevent couriers it is representing arguing for “worker status” to be recognised in the Supreme Courts.
Deliveroo welcomed the partnership, which it said would focus on “rider safety, security, wellbeing and diversity”.
The GMB accused “other groups” of being “unrepresentative” of couriers and claiming the “first of a kind partnership” will allow it to negotiate pay deals on behalf of 90,000 riders.
Currently Deliveroo workers are self-employed and are free to work for several food delivery companies at once.
But the IWGB has been fighting to have Deliveroo riders classified as “workers” since 2017, which they argue would provide the right to unionise and bargain collectively for better terms and conditions.
Last June the union suffered a setback after the court of appeal upheld previous verdicts that found the food delivery couriers were self-employed. Meanwhile they have raised repeated concerns about pay and conditions.
Insecurity at Deliveroo
The delivery company claimed its self-employed riders were paid more than £10 per hour on average and says rider satisfaction is at “an all-time high”.
But some riders told The Ferret that the insecurity of the job could badly impact on their mental health, and said they often did not feel safe having to accept jobs across unfamiliar parts of towns or cities. Restrictions caused by the pandemic exacerbated the issues, they claimed.
In a statement in response to the GMB deal, IWGB said it had been “leading the fight back against Deliveroo’s poverty pay and abysmal working conditions” for many years, “taking action, winning changes and building a powerful union led by couriers.”
It claimed its campaigns had led to Deliveroo introducing sick pay, parental pay, access to toilets for riders and reduced waiting times at restaurants.
The grassroots union added: “Deliveroo has always claimed that collective bargaining would come at the cost of flexible working, but this partnership proves that this has always been a lie to scare workers away from unionising.
“Now as we appeal our collective bargaining case to the Supreme Court, Deliveroo has cynically made this backroom deal with the GMB, which has no record of organising couriers and presents no threat to their exploitative business practices, to protect itself in the event that it loses at the final stage.”
It said Deliveroo was “undermining the efforts of couriers to pursue their rights through the courts” adding: “This announcement is nothing more than a hollow and cynical PR move. This deal is a desperate attempt to dupe investors and the wider public into thinking the business takes workers’ concerns seriously.
“The company is seeking to undermine the UK legal system in preventing a successful statutory recognition agreement with the IWGB by securing a voluntary agreement with another union. This partnership benefits nobody except Deliveroo and the GMB leadership.”
It called on the UK Government to review the Union Recognition legislation, claiming it had been “routinely undermined by union-busting”, a term meaning to disrupt or prevent the formation of trade unions or their attempts to grow their membership in a workplace.
Other examples include an Uber-GMB partnership agreed last year, which, IWGB claims, has resulted in conditions which are “worse than ever”.
But Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said the deal was “groundbreaking” and allowed his union to represent the wishes of Deliveroo riders to remain self-employed while gaining better employment protections.
He added: “This agreement has all the trappings of a traditional trade union recognition deal: pay bargaining, the right to dispute resolution, representation over health and safety, benefits and grievances.
“GMB will now negotiate pay deals on behalf of 90,000 riders – other groups have less than one per cent membership and are totally unrepresentative.
He claimed “the overwhelming majority of Deliveroo riders want to remain self employed”. He added: “They don’t want anyone to take that away from them.”
But Eve Livingston, freelance journalist and author of Make Bosses Pay, claimed that the partnership deal was not all it seemed, and was very different from standard union recognition.”
She claimed that on first glance it “might look like cause for celebration” but said the fine printed needed closer examination.
Livingston added: “There has been a union present and active in Deliveroo for a number of years – the IWGB, who have worked to build power among Deliveroo riders across the country and to develop a strong union culture in spite of the employer’s refusal to recognise or negotiate with them.
“To now enter into an arrangement with a different union that has little membership among Deliveroo workers therefore operates as underhand union-busting by effectively blocking out the union and members who pose any real threat to the employer.”
Karen Gregory, an Edinburgh University academic researching the digital economy, said: “Organisers are angry because workers have been leading the charge in this space, through the IWGB but also direct actions globally.
“These workers have been at the forefront of the fight for employment rights in the platform economy and for GMB to enter this space in this way, workers and organisers are right to feel their work has been coopted or derailed.
“For workers, we will have to see how the GMB proceed and what changes here, but it’s likely that key issues, particularly on pay, will not change for workers day to day.”
Will Shu, Deliveroo founder and chief executive said: “We are delighted to partner with the GMB in this first-of-its-kind voluntary agreement, giving self-employed riders flexibility, guaranteed earnings, representation and benefits.
“Deliveroo has long called for riders to have both flexibility and security and this innovative agreement is exactly the sort of partnership the on-demand economy should be based on.”
Cover image thanks to iStock/MarioGuti