9th December 2017 at 1:13 pm #616
The company I work for says we can’t join a union because according to our contracts we are independent contractors. Is that true?
10th December 2017 at 11:13 am #653
I’m Mags Dewhurst. I’m a bike courier and one of the founders of the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB).
We took Deliveroo to court on this issue. They said their riders are independent contractors – effectively hundreds of small businesses.
We said the riders should have the status of employees or ‘workers’ in law. We’re saying that means they have the right to join a union. Because of course hundreds of small businesses don’t join trade unions.
We haven’t been successful yet, but the Central Arbitration Committee did say most of the Deliveroo riders in the area want to be able to unionise for pay and holiday. We’re thinking about what to do next.
Anyway, here’s what I’ve learned from my experiences on this with the IWGB.
Firstly, flexibility gives you power.
When you are managed by a smartphone and log in and out, and you have that flexibility of going to work or not going to work, if everyone just decides to log out at the same time… it’s not a strike in the traditional sense, but it can be quite effective.
Even better, if the ‘employer’ classifies their workforce as thousands of small businesses then the strike laws don’t apply.
When we were supporting the Deliveroo strike, for example, we didn’t call for them as a Union.
They were worker-led, started by the guys who were standing around looking at their phones and saying “well, this email has just come through… saying we’re going to get a pay cut. Which is kind of ridiculous. Let’s ‘go on strike’… let’s go to the headquarters at five.”
It’s not an official strike, it’s just logging out. But if we go to the restaurants and ask how effective it is, they say “oh yes, normally we have 176 orders or 200 orders on a Saturday night. We only had 50 orders.” So it’s very effective.
Secondly though, it’s not always about strikes.
You’re not going to cripple Deliveroo with strike action. We can be more effective with mass membership and the law and MPs grilling them, and the media, and sustained pressure, and getting the restaurants on board.
There are other options, other tactics that aren’t about withdrawal of labour. And you should use them; they’re very effective.
Third, companies which give fewer rights get less loyalty.
When you don’t have any employment rights, when you’re treated so badly by your employer, when the idea of taking them to court comes up, people’s reaction is: ‘why not’?
People have so little to lose that it’s not a big deal. And that’s the positive side for the future.
So we took Deliveroo to a tribunal. And of course they were annoyed that we did that. And we got a lot of satisfaction from that.
So that’s one of the ways the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) work. We are a small, obnoxious, diverse, low income, low resource trade union. We don’t charge people very much.
Hopefully in the end Deliveroo riders will be categorised as a ‘workers’ and have the right to unionise in the future.
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