Future of Work

A bicycle courier has won an employment rights case in a ruling which could have implications for the “gig economy”. A tribunal found that Maggie Dewhurst, a courier with logistics firm City Sprint, should be classed as a worker rather than self-employed.

As a worker, she would be entitled to basic rights including holiday and sick pay and the national living wage.

City Sprint said it was “disappointed” and will review the ruling “in detail”.

While Friday’s decision will only apply to Ms Dewhurst, it highlights the working practices of the so-called “gig economy”, where people are employed by companies on a job-by-job basis.

It is the first of four legal challenges being taken against courier companies, which include Addison Lee, Excel and E-Courier.

The case follows a similar ruling against the taxi-hailing service Uber in October last year, which found that drivers should be classed as workers rather than self-employed. Uber intends to appeal.

City Sprint 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.”

This CitySprint case and the Uber judgement last year get to the heart of the debate around the “gig economy”. Is it a world where people flexibly run their own businesses or where the growing ranks of the self-employed juggle several low-paid, insecure jobs?

Some say its growth has skewed the rewards of work towards big business, leaving many people without rights or workplace protection.

And that employment law has failed to keep up with innovative, often technology-driven, business models.

The government has commissioned an independent review of modern working practices. It’s due to report in the spring.

Ms Dewhurst, 29, from South London, said: “I’m delighted that the tribunal ruled in our favour as it has set a legal and moral precedent which others can use to make similar claims.”

Ms Dewhurst has been with City Sprint for the past two years, during which time the company classed her as an “independent contractor”, or self-employed.

However, she claimed her role was more like that of a worker. “We spend all day being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it. We’re under their control. We’re not a mosaic of small businesses and that’s why we deserve basic employment rights like the national minimum wage,” she said.

The tribunal ruling released on Friday stated that “the claimant was a worker of the respondent [City Sprint] and… it unlawfully failed to pay her for two days’ holiday”.

The Employment Tribunal judge, Joanna Wade, described City Sprint’s contractual arrangements as “contorted”, “indecipherable” and “window-dressing”.

City Sprint said it enjoyed “a good relationship with our fleet” and said that evidence given at the tribunal highlighted that it is “a good company that pays its couriers some of the best rates in the industry”.

Paul Jennings, a partner at law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite which represented Ms Dewhurst, said: “Until now couriers have occupied a vulnerable position. They carry out physically demanding work, in dangerous conditions, but cannot take paid leave. In the wake of this judgement, we expect to that thousands of couriers across the capital will look to assert their rights and seek back pay.”

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