Following the London Employment Tribunal ruling that Uber’s drivers for the online taxi service must be categorised as workers and granted workers’ rights, a group of food couriers for the online delivery startup Deliveroo are seeking similar status.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain has written a letter on behalf of couriers  for Deliveroo in North London, asking the startup to recognise it so that it may bargain for the riders. Should the couriers win, the gig economy will face huge repercussions.

Julia Kermode, CEO of Umbrella Company trade body the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA), said that it comes as little surprise to find Deliveroo couriers, encouraged by the decision on Uber, pursuing their rights.

While employment status is multifaceted, Ms Kermode continued, it is important for employers to take care over how they categorise their workforce so that there is clarity over whether workers are truly self-employed or employed.

Employers, she added, should properly handle their workforces to make sure that mistreatment cannot occur. People earning less than the minimum wage is unacceptable, and employers ought not to dodge their obligations to deliver basic employment rights.

Ms Kermode criticised the commission/wages structure in this instance for resulting in remarkably low pay, adding that if the couriers and others like them had received a fair income in the first place, there would be no need for such a case to be brought.

The Government appeared in principle to support the flexible workforce, she added, but expressed concern that the current trend in policy seems intent on making professional contracting so cumbersome that it would ultimately be eradicated in favour of permanent employment.

Ms Kermode said that this was a result of the changes that will be made to the IR35 in the months to come, and expressed her frustration with the media portrayal of self-employment which seems to imply that it is inferior and that businesses ought to hire permanent staff. She urged people to remember that the majority of professionals who are self-employed choose to operate this way and do not feel exploited by not having employment rights.

Her views were echoed by the founder and CEO of online contractor resource ContractorCalculator, Dave Chaplin, who similarly anticipated that the Uber verdict would encourage other low-paid workers to pursue similar rights. Wishing Deliveroo couriers every success, he added: “However such cases do not paint the full picture of self-employment – 80% of self-employed workers told us in a recent survey that they do not want rights, do not see themselves as vulnerable workers and are very happy with the way they work.”

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