January 16, 2017

Workers’ rights - sprinting to the finish line

Following in the trail of the decision that Uber drivers were workers and were entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage it is no surprise that an employment tribunal reached a similar conclusion in a case brought by a cycle courier claiming that she was entitled to holiday pay.

Ms Dewhurst was a cycle courier for CitySprint, which engages 3,200 self-employed couriers in Great Britain.  She worked around 4 days per week in London, carrying out a series of courier jobs, wearing CitySprint uniform. Her contract stated that she was a self-employed contractor.  However, CitySprint:

  • allocates courier jobs via a centralised tracking system; and controllers and couriers remain in contact via radio and mobile phones, once the courier logs on to the tracking system. 
  • states that it pays couriers are ‘per job’ but in fact couriers receive payment in arrears on a weekly basis, without having to submit an invoice for the jobs that they had completed.
  • specifies that couriers are not obliged to provide work; and if the courier does not work, then they will not be paid.
  • allows couriers to send substitutes, but in reality, the restrictions imposed are such that a substitute could really only be another CitySprint courier, rather than someone of the courier’s own choosing. 
  • takes couriers through a rudimentary disciplinary process if they are rude to customers and ultimately couriers can be removed and replaced. 
  • decides if couriers can go home: when Ms Dewhurst wanted to finish early because she was feeling unwell, she was told she could not do so because no-one else could be found to cover a job. 

The employment tribunal considered all of these factors. Rather than rely on what the contract said, they looked at the reality of the situation.  Having done so, the tribunal thought that it was clear that Ms Dewhurst was in fact, integrated into CitySprint’s business.  

The employment tribunal concluded that when CitySprint said that their couriers ‘make their services’ available to them, this was ‘window dressing’ and that Ms Dewhurst was in fact a worker, who worked during the hours that she was logged on to the CitySprint system (rather than by reference to the days that she worked).  The employment tribunal awarded her two days holiday pay.  The tribunal emphasised some key factors, to take note of, including that Ms Dewhurst:

  • was both economically and organisationally dependant on CitySprint, and was working for them rather than for herself;
  • lacked autonomy to determine the manner in which she performed services and had no chance to dictate the terms; and
  • was not providing services to anyone else.

It is not difficult to imagine this decision will be replicated and that companies such as Deliveroo and AddisonLee will face difficulties in defending the claims being brought against them about worker status.

To read our article on the Uber case click here