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Bike Courier Found to be a Worker in the Latest 'Gig' Economy Employment Rights Case

The status of workers in the ‘gig’ economy has been thrown back into the spotlight, following a ruling that a courier with logistics firm Citysprint should be classed as a worker rather than self-employed.

An Employment Tribunal has held that a cycle courier for Citysprint was a worker under section 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, rather than being in business on her own account, in a case which shares some similarities with the tribunal ruling against Uber in October 2016. The courier therefore succeeded in her claim for two days' paid holiday.

Couriers who passed a two-day recruitment process were presented with a "Confirmation of Tender to Supply Courier Services", which purports to treat them as self-employed contractors. They were then asked to electronically acknowledge a number of key terms. These make clear that the courier:

  • is under no obligation to provide services and Citysprint is under no obligation to provide work;
  • that the courier may use a substitute to provide the work, so long as the substitute fulfils certain criteria (although this did not happen in practice);
  • that if the courier does not work they will not get paid; and
  • that the courier is not entitled to holiday, maternity or sick pay.

Once they are ready for work, couriers are paid by the job. Although Citysprint refer to the payment process as a self-billing and invoice system, in practice couriers do not need to submit invoices for individual jobs; instead, Citysprint automatically calculates payments due and pays them weekly in arrears, after deductions.

Following the approach of the Supreme Court in Autoclenz v Belcher and others, the tribunal found that the terms of the "Confirmation of Tender" document did not reflect the true relationship between the parties. It was therefore necessary to look at the reality of the situation.

The claimant, Ms Dewhurst, was required to log into the company’s Citytrakker tracking system when she was on circuit, and log out at the end of the day. She wore a uniform, was expected to work when she said she would, was directed by a controller (through radios and mobile phones), and was told to smile, as part of providing a professional service. Overall, Citysprint couriers have little autonomy to determine the manner in which their services are performed, and the Tribunal agreed that Ms Dewhurst had been recruited by Citysprint to work for it, and was integrated into the business. Accordingly, Ms Dewhurst was a worker during periods when she was logged into the Citytrakker system.

Dewhurst’s case is the first of four legal challenges being taken against courier companies, including Addison Lee, Excel and E-Courier.

Citysprint said: "This case has demonstrated that there is still widespread confusion regarding this area of law, which is why we are calling on the government to provide better support and help for businesses across the UK who could be similarly affected."


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