CitySprint courier should be classed as worker, says tribunal

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A tribunal has found that a CitySprint bicycle courier should be classed as a worker, rather than self employed.

This judgment in Dewhurst v CitySprint UK Ltd could have far-reaching implications for so-called “gig economy” employers that claim their workers undertake services on a self-employed basis and that they effectively run their own businesses.

The tribunal, which took place on Friday, found that Maggie Dewhurst should be entitled to basic employment rights such as holiday pay, sick pay and the national living wage.

She has worked for CitySprint for the past two years, during which time she has been classed as an independent contractor, despite her role being more like that of a worker.

She told the tribunal: “We spend all day being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it. We’re under their control.”

Tribunal judge Joanna Wade called CitySprint’s contractual arrangements “contorted”, “indecipherable” and “window dressing”.

She added: “It is CitySprint which has the power to regulate the amount of work available, and it keeps its couriers busy by limiting the size of the fleet.

“This gets to the heart of the inequality of bargaining power present in this relationship, and shows that this is not a commercial venture between two corporate entities, as claimed by CitySprint.”

The case echoes a recent “gig economy” case against taxi firm Uber, which took place in October last year. The tribunal found that Uber drivers should be classed as workers and therefore eligible for basic employment rights. The company intends to appeal.

There are also a number of other outstanding legal challenges with courier companies including Addison Lee, Excel and eCourier.

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.”

Dewhurst said she was “delighted” with the tribunal decision “as it has set a legal and moral precedent that others can use to make similar claims”.

Jon Katona, vice president of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which supported Dewhurst’s claim, said: “This is a huge victory for couriers, and workers everywhere who have been asked to sign their rights away for a job.

“It’s a warning to other companies that masquerading as a non-employer, or as a go-between for independent businessmen is over. You’re going to have to give your workforce the rights and protections owed to them according to the true working relationship, or we will come after you.”

CitySprint has not confirmed whether or not it will appeal the decision, but said it was reviewing the ruling “in detail”.

Late last year, the Government announced a review into workers’ rights in the gig economy, led by Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Arts.

Analysis of the judgment in Dewhurst v CitySprint UK Ltd, with an explanation of its implications for employers, is available on XpertHR.

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