A leading expert on professional contracting in the UK has applauded last week’s Central London employment tribunal ruling against private taxi hire and courier company Addison Lee over its treatment of so-called “independent contractors.”
As reported in The Guardian, the tribunal ruled that Addison Lee had failed to pay one of its cycle couriers, Chris Gascoigne, holiday pay. Mr Gascoigne had brought the claim for holiday pay amounting to £800, maintaining that he had been treated as a worker by the company and should have been entitled to the same rights as an employee. The latter would include entitlement to the National Minimum Wage and paid holiday leave.
Addison Lee argued that Mr Gascoigne was an independent contractor. However, during the tribunal, presiding judge Joanna Wade discerned several key issues in the evidence presented to her that flew in the face of that assertion.
These included the fact that Mr Gascoigne had been supplied with an Addison Lee-branded T-shirt and bag and was required to use Addison Lee devices, including a central controller system that gave him no “decline” option when it offered him a “gig.”
Judge Wade also found the wording of the contract that Mr Gascoigne was required to sign contradictory. One section obliged the courier to agree that he or she was an independent contractor and not an employee, worker, agent of partner of the company.
The judge noted that the contract did not say that Addison Lee wanted couriers who are independent contractors who work on an ad-hoc basis. Neither did it say that engaged workers would be self-employed sub-contractors for account work, but they would carry the risk for non-account work.
The wording, she said, was deliberately confusing, and she found that the company had employed “armies” of lawyers to ensure that claimants such as Mr Gascoigne did not have employee status
An Addison Lee spokesperson said that the company, though disappointed with the ruling, would nonetheless note the tribunal’s ruling and carefully review it.
Commenting on the verdict, professional contracting expert Dave Chaplin, the CEO and founder of ContractorCalculator, applauded the judge’s decision.
Noting that the gig economy has been greatly beneficial in some circumstances, he strongly agreed that gig companies should not misclassify workers in contrived ways simply to dodge their obligations as employers and avoid giving these workers their rights.
He added: “The dependent contractor is not a new status but an attempt to rename the existing worker and clarify in law what that means.
“This is not an easy task, and Government needs to tread carefully so that it does not damage the genuine flexible workforce whilst trying to protect the vulnerable workers.”