Food delivery giant Deliveroo is facing fresh scrutiny over its controversial classification of its riders as self-employed. Following last week’s first-stage High Court defeat by the Independent Workers Union (IWGB), the company will now be the subject of an inquiry by the Labour MP Frank Field, as originally reported by Reuters. Yesterday, the minister announced that his office would be specifically investigating the “pay and working conditions of people trying to earn a living in the ‘gig economy.’”
Field, who announced the launch of the inquiry on his website, points to reports published by he and his colleague Andrew Forsey— based on “hundreds of testimonies” from workers at Hermes, Uber, DPD and Parcelforce over the past two years.
“The reports have shone a bright light on the extent of low pay, exploitation, and bogus self-employment afflicting all too many workers at the bottom of the labour market,” he writes.
This is how the inquiry will play out:
- It will take place over the next five weeks.
- Gathering evidence from an unspecified number of Deliveroo’s (15,000) riders in “an attempt to supplement the evidence base on the living standards of workers in the ‘gig economy’.”
- It will also seek to discover whether there will be a need for any additional safeguards for workers and whether Deliveroo will be required to provide benefits for its riders.
- It will include a discussion, organised by the IWGB, at which Deliveroo riders can present oral evidence based on their experience of working with the company.
- Field has confirmed he will also write to Deliveroo with a series of questions on riders’ pay and working conditions.
- The questions he will ask riders are listed below.
Ahead of the inquiry, and drawing on findings from previous investigations into ‘gig economy’ employers, Field said that “the weight of the evidence I’ve seen shows that bogus self-employment is being peddled by those who benefit so handsomely from the gig economy, to avoid the obligations they have to their workforce.
“I now wish to see if this is a partial view or whether it, sadly, represents what is going on in yet another company operating in the gig economy.’”
Taking a firmer tone, Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of IWGB, added: “Following on from last week’s High Court decision...[Field’s] announcement is another important step in achieving justice for low paid Deliveroo riders.
“I’m familiar with how Deliveroo justifies its actions in [legal language], but I do look forward to seeing how they justify depriving riders of fundamental human rights in their evidence to Frank Field MP.”
A Deliveroo spokesperson reiterated the company line on the merits of flexible working, saying this remains a draw for its riders.
“Deliveroo offers riders flexible, well-paid work because this is what we know they want. Riders value having the freedom to choose when, where and whether to work, and this flexibility is only available through self-employment.”
The company added that “the self-employed status of Deliveroo riders has been repeatedly confirmed in the courts.” It is though this that remains a subject of contention among those who argue that ‘gig economy’ workers might actually occupy a undefined space between employment and self-employment.
But Deliveroo did say that the company would cooperate with a “balanced” enquiry, noting the room for improvement on the ambiguous nature of self-employment and its associated rights within the ‘gig economy’.
“Deliveroo would be happy to contribute to a balanced enquiry which acknowledges the benefits of self-employment, and which takes forward our calls on policy-makers to end the trade-off between flexibility and security that currently exists in employment law, so we can continue to improve our offer to riders,” the spokesperson said.
Stay tuned for updates as this inquiry progresses.