Earlier this month, cycle courier service CitySprint lost a landmark ruling in which one of its ‘independent freelancers’, Margaret Dewhurst, won the rights to paid holidays and minimum pay.
The ruling echoes the milestone Uber employment tribunal which took place in October last year. Brought forward by two drivers on behalf of 19 Uber workers, the ride-hailing app lost the unprecedented ruling which deemed its drivers employees rather than independent contractors. And now, CitySprint has found itself in a similar situation.
CitySprint claims that its 3,000 couriers, cyclists who work for the same-day delivery service, are independent freelancers rather than employees and therefore not eligible for statutory employee rights. CitySprint’s couriers make deliveries to a range of locations, typically medical facilities where they collect and deliver clinical notes, blood samples and prescriptions. Bringing the case forward, Ms. Dewhurst admitted that while she could turn down a particular job, there was an overriding fear of being offered less work as a result. Judge Joanna Wade criticised CitySprint’s contracts with its workers as “indecipherable”, “window-dressing”, “contorted and self-destructive”.
This latest tribunal, in line with the recent Uber ruling, reflects a shifting attitude and increasing awareness of the evolving employment landscape. Addison Lee, Excel and E-Courier will each face their own employment status challenges in March and April this year, and it is expected that similar cases will affect the staffing sector throughout 2017.
Similarly to the Uber case, the CitySprint ruling raises questions surrounding the duty of employers to fulfil their social, ethical and moral responsibility to their workers. While it is the responsibility of the authorities to enforce what is and is not acceptable, it is up to the voting population to ensure that the authorities enact with clarity what is collectively agreed as fair. The onus is then on the companies engaging with gig workers to act fairly and compliantly, but this is only possible where there is clarity. CitySprint themselves have called for the Government to provide “better support and help for businesses across the UK who could be similarly affected”. In December, Uber launched its appeal against its employment tribunal in the UK, however since then it has suffered another setback in Europe after a Swiss insurance agency also ruled that its drivers are employees.
The world of flexible working is gaining greater momentum, and employment classification challenges will become increasingly prevalent across these industries that engage with the gig economy. This new world of working is one which is extremely effective, bringing numerous benefits to businesses and workers, but it will be up to companies and regulators to find a common ground to engage with this workforce safely.