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Employment

Union’s landmark deal with Deliveroo 'sells out' workers, say activists

The agreement between Deliveroo and union GMB is the first of its kind for gig economy workers - but the IWGB union says it "undermines" its campaigning work on behalf of couriers.

The agreement between GMB and Deliveroo includes the designation of the company's couriers as self-employed, rather than workers. Image: Joshua Lawrence / Unsplash

Deliveroo has been accused of sidelining a gig economy union that has fought for delivery drivers for years by announcing a landmark deal with another union.

Union GMB has signed a voluntary agreement with Deliveroo which will see the food delivery company formally recognise GMB members’ rights to collective bargaining on pay, and consultation rights on health and safety.

Deliveroo employs more than 90,000 self-employed riders in the UK. Until now it has refused to negotiate with a union on pay or working conditions – called union recognition.

“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,” said Will Shu, Deliveroo founder and CEO.

“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.”

But Deliveroo’s decision to voluntarily recognise GMB has been criticised by gig economy campaigners, who say it undermines the work done over a number of years by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), a grassroots union. 

The IWGB, which represents migrant and gig economy workers, has claimed Deliveroo has “approached a union they find less intimidating” to form an agreement that is “damaging to workers.” 

“In a sense it’s a victory for workers in the gig economy because it’s forced Deliveroo into making a desperate manoeuvre,” IWGB president Alex Marshall told The Big Issue. But he said the essential details of the agreement “erodes and undermines what we’ve been fighting for.”

By agreeing that Deliveroo riders are self-employed, Marshall said that “GMB has surrendered any hope that riders will ever receive any basic entitlements such as paid holiday leave and pensions”.

“I have never heard any couriers mention they’re members of GMB in the 10 years I’ve been working and organising in the gig economy,” he added.

In a statement on its website, IWGB Couriers went further, calling the deal a “cynical PR move” ahead of the Deliveroo AGM next week.

It said: “This partnership benefits nobody except Deliveroo and the GMB leadership, and we call on the government to review the Union Recognition legislation as it has been routinely undermined by union-busting companies who partner with yellow-bellied unions.”

“This deal is the first of its kind in the world,” said Mick Rix, GMB national officer. “Tens of thousands of riders for one of the world’s largest online food delivery services will now be covered by a collective agreement that gives them a voice – including pay talks, guaranteed earnings  and representation in times of difficulty.”

Labour has congratulated Deliveroo and GMB on the “groundbreaking agreement,” which “shows how innovation and a voice at work can go hand in hand.”

Praising Deliveroo, Rachel Reeves, Labour’s shadow chancellor said: “It is good that there are successful businesses who understand the value of trade unions in a modern economy.”

Labour MP Emily Thornberry also congratulated Deliveroo via Twitter, saying the company “will be stronger for this agreement with GMB Union and the lives of your workforce will be easier.”

The Trades Union Congress also celebrated the recognition deal for paving the way for “better conditions for Deliveroo drivers – and workers across the gig economy.”

IWGB had previously taken a legal case to force Deliveroo to recognise the union, which was denied by the Court of Appeal in a bid to force Deliveroo into recognising their right to collective bargaining. The court found that because Deliveroo riders are self-employed, Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees the right to form a union, did not apply.

Gig economy researcher and author of Riding for Deliveroo, Callum Cant, called the agreement “an embarrassment to the trade union movement,” that “sells out all the workers who have spent the five years organising to build power.”

Deliveroo has been accused of “sanitising its increasingly discredited public image” in recent weeks by partnering with national food bank charity the Trussell Trust, despite accusations that its own couriers rely on food parcels themselves.

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