A union representing riders at takeaway food courier Deliveroo has lodged a claim to negotiate employment rights on behalf of its members to the UK's arbitration service.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has submitted an application for trade union recognition at the firm to the Central Arbitration Committee, a government-backed body with the legal power to settle disputes between companies and workers.
Deliveroo classes its riders as self-employed "independent contractors" rather than staff, and refuses to formally recognise the IWGB. This allows the firm to run lean operating costs compared to traditional rivals.
The move comes after two drivers for taxi service Uber won a tribunal case last month where they argued they were workers not contractors. This victory, backed by the GMB union, is being appealed by Uber.
The Uber case puts the spotlight on other gig-economy firms with large self-employed workforces, and spearheads a broader push among unions for greater employment rights for workers in this area.
The IWGB is pushing to represent Deliveroo riders in Camden, north London.
This comes after successful protests by Deliveroo riders in London in August who objected to a new pay structure which would have seen them moved from an hourly rate to a payment per delivery.
The change affected several zones, including Camden, and some riders said it would mean their pay was cut.
No voluntary recognition
After several days of demonstrations and some drivers refusing to work, the company agreed that not all riders would have to move to the new contracts.
In a 21 November letter by Deliveroo sent to the IWGB the firm said it would not agree "a voluntary recognition agreement" with the union.
The company added this was because "we do not believe that the IWGB represents the views of the vast majority of riders in our nationwide supplier pool".
It added that the union's plan to open negotiations for workers in the Camden area
"sets out to create an artificial subset of riders and is incompatible with effective management".
The Central Arbitration Committee will need to determine whether there is sufficient support for the union among the Deliveroo workforce before it grants recognition.
The IWGB will have to demonstrate that at least 10% of the riders in the Camden area are union members, and that a majority of the firm's riders operating in the London borough would favour union recognition.
Better terms and conditions
IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee said: "People want basic employment rights and workers want a say over their pay and terms and conditions. With today's application the IWGB is striking once again at the exploitative underpinnings of the so-called 'gig economy.'"
John Hendy, a barrister for the IWGB, called the Uber decision last month "very important".
But Hendy added: "Those working in the gig economy will never see a significant improvement to their terms and conditions without being represented by a union in collective bargaining.
"Therefore IWGB's application for recognition for collective bargaining on behalf of their Deliveroo members is a timely and vital step forward."
A decision by the Central Arbitration Committee is expected within three months.
The food courier said: "We do not believe that the IWGB accurately represents the views of the vast majority of the 8,000 UK riders we work with. Indeed the union only seeks to represent a very small subset of riders, rather than our riders right across the country.
"We have always been, and continue to be, happy to engage directly with all riders who have any concerns. Working together we will ensure Deliveroo continues to offer great opportunities for riders and great service to our customers."
Deliveroo, founded in 2013, has more than 2,500 food outlets signed up to its service in London and uses around 8,000 riders in the UK.