On Your Bike
by Qdos Contractor
Self-employed bicycle courier secures employment rights
An Employment Tribunal recently ruled that Maggie Dewhurst, a 29 year old bicycle courier, was not genuinely self-employed but rather a “limb worker” and therefore entitled to basic worker rights.
Dewhurst had been delivering for same day courier company CitySprint UK Ltd for two years on a self-employed basis until she challenged that status at tribunal last November. Although her claim was for two days unpaid holiday, the real underlying principle was whether couriers should be classified as ‘independent contractors’ or ‘workers’. Whilst they are both types of self-employment, ‘worker’ status indicates that individuals are integrated into their clients’ business to such a degree that they are afforded basic working rights such as holiday and sick pay.
The tribunal judge found that CitySprint controlled the amount of work available to couriers to such an extent that Dewhurst could not meaningfully provide her services to any other customers. Dewhurst said, “We spend all day being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it. We’re under their control.” The judge confirmed this point by stating, “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.”
It was also determined by the tribunal that if CitySprint were to allow Dewhurst to sub-contract her own work, then they would have been in breach of their own contract with HCA International .
CitySprint claimed that their 3,500 couriers enjoy many freedoms such as flexibility and high earnings but they failed to demonstrate this was actually so.
Head of Fleet and Compliance at CitySprint insisted that couriers could expand their businesses by way of bribing loading bay staff and thereby securing more work.
Working practices trump contract
The tribunal judge said that the very title of the contract arose her suspicion that it “may have been generated by [an] “army of lawyers” and that “any concept of her [Dewhurst] operating a business is a sham.”
CitySprint’s business model was described by the tribunal judge as “contorted, indecipherable” and “window dressing”.
Contractors have long since known that their working practices are of paramount importance when defending their IR35 position, and will always take precedence over conflicting contractual terms and this case merely reinforces that very point.
The case also highlights that lopsided bargaining power between the parties is likely to demonstrate that there does not exist a true business-to-business agreement.
In response to the judgement, a spokesperson at CitySprint said, “We are disappointed with the ruling. It is important to remember that this applies to a single individual and was not a test case.” However, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, who supported Dewhurst’s claim, commented, “The law is clear and CitySprint have been on the wrong side of it. We will now be writing to the other three courier companies against whom we have pending claims and asking them to concede defeat on this matter.”