Will ‘historic recognition’ union deal deliver for Deliveroo riders?

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Deliveroo rider waiting at a junction on a busy road © Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

Yesterday it was announced that Deliveroo has signed a historic recognition deal with GMB Union, covering the company’s 90,000 food delivery riders. This has been celebrated by the likes of the TUC and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, who called the agreement ‘ground-breaking’, but it is hard to tell what this will mean in practice.

The deal has been criticised by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB). The union, which represents gig economy workers across the country, has been active in supporting Deliveroo riders, including bringing a court case arguing for more workers’ rights although this was ultimately unsuccessful.

Going much further than the agreement struck between GMB and Uber last year, the deal gives Deliveroo riders rights to collective bargaining on pay and consultation rights on benefits and other issues, including riders’ health, safety and wellbeing, while maintaining their self-employed status. The union will also be able to represent individual riders who are GMB members in disputes, giving them a stronger voice. As is typical, riders who choose not to join GMB won’t be entitled to this support.

While Deliveroo’s recognition of GMB commits both parties to negotiate in good faith, it does not require agreement nor does it give the union a veto over every employer proposal. Ultimately, recognition is only as strong as the membership and union organisation within the company, which will depend on the number of active members and their involvement and collective activity.

Furthermore, the absence of union recognition, as is the case with IWGB, does not necessarily mean union influence is zero. In fact, IWGB have already been successful in campaigning for change at Deliveroo. For example, as a result of public pressure in response to their campaigns Deliveroo previously agreed to a recruitment freeze in Brighton, so that existing riders wouldn’t see their hours diminish further.

While formal union recognition at Deliveroo is a positive signal, it remains to be seen how significant this will be and whether riders will see more rights and protections.

What we do know is that gig work in the UK remains a highly financially insecure form of work. Most delivery work is paid per drop, rather than per hour. Even though the piece rate may be adequate, ancillary costs coupled with unpredictable demand can result in low pay. Recent research from Lancaster University highlights how unpaid waiting time plays a significant role in lowering average earnings for bike couriers.

It is clear that more needs to be done by Government to prevent exploitation and protect workers from insecurity. Recent reports have shown that some Deliveroo riders in London rely on emergency food supplies from foodbanks and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that some Deliveroo riders were paid as little £2 an hour. This is clearly unethical and unsustainable, particularly given the high inflation rates and rising living costs that we are currently experiencing. Additional support for the most insecure workers - including those in the gig economy - must be prioritised.

The Queen’s Speech was a missed opportunity for Government to bring forward the Employment Bill which could have revised how gig economy workers are classified, and clarify the rights and protections that they can access. According to the TUC, the number of people working for gig economy platforms has nearly tripled in England and Wales over the past five years. In this context, Government should prioritise updating the UK’s labour standards to meet the needs of this growing proportion of the workforce.


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