Gig work­ers need more pro­tec­tions

The Irish Times - Business - - BUSINESS THIS WEEK -

Last Fri­day evening, I sat with a col­league in traf­fic at one of the busiest in­ner city junc­tions in the vicin­ity of The Ir­ish Times .Aswe waited, two cy­clists ap­peared from be­hind us and broke the red light. Both were wear­ing the branded back­packs of De­liv­eroo, the food de­liv­ery app that, along with its com­peti­tors, is rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the restau­rant in­dus­try.

The first rider got through eas­ily. He may have been break­ing traf­fic laws, but un­der the laws of com­mon sense, he wasn’t in much dan­ger of break­ing any­thing else. He found a size­able gap in the traf­fic and tra­versed it safely and in plenty of time.

The sec­ond rider, how­ever, was on a kamikaze mis­sion. Pre­sum­ably, he looked up and saw the first rider get­ting through with­out in­ci­dent, and went for it in his col­league’s slip­stream. He didn’t check the traf­fic com­ing off the south bank of the river Lif­fey to his left, and he shot through the junc­tion with­out look­ing.

Watch­ing him, my col­league and I gasped as he rode in front of a speed­ing car. It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that the sec­ond De­liv­eroo rider was inches from se­ri­ous in­jury or death. It was a sui­ci­dal move to pull in the city cen­tre at night. Yet he didn’t even look back. He kept ped­alling to­wards the dock­lands area that is home to the big­gest tech com­pa­nies in the world.

What could mo­ti­vate a food de­liv­ery rider to take such a stupid risk with his own life? After all, he was just de­liv­er­ing dead meat and veg­eta­bles. There’s no point end­ing up dead over it your­self.

Run­ning joke

Per­haps he is just a bad cy­clist – the city is full of them, just as there is no short­age of bad car driv­ers. You can­not leg­is­late for peo­ple who are pre­pared to pull crazy stunts, and they are hardly lonely out­liers: ev­ery Ir­ish per­son, no mat­ter what mode of trans­port they choose, knows the run­ning joke that, here, red lights mean stop, green means go, and am­ber means go faster. The rule is you can break the rules.

But what if our De­liv­eroo Dare­devil was mo­ti­vated by some­thing else? Money, per­haps, or even worry.

He wasn’t out on a night cy­cle to take in the river breeze. He was in a ma­jor hurry, so he was ob­vi­ously ei­ther on his way to pick up a de­liv­ery from a restau­rant, or on his way to a cus­tomer to drop it off.

The more drops he makes, the more he earns. The quicker he makes them, the less likely he is to be delisted by De­liv­eroo for record­ing per­sis­tent slow de­liv­ery times. The com­pany clearly tells its self-em­ployed rid­ers to obey all rel­e­vant traf­fic laws and ride safely. But a high-pres­sure, ride-faster-and-earn-more cul­ture could still con­trib­ute to­wards bad de­ci­sion mak­ing by rid­ers. The Bri­tish com­pany is among the best known of the plat­form-work­ing “gig econ­omy” apps that are help­ing to up­end the tra­di­tional no­tions of work and em­ploy­ment. They use tech­nol­ogy to con­nect cus­tomers with a need (in this in­stance, the need to get a chicken madras from the lo­cal In­dian take­away) to “gig­ging” self-em­ployed work­ers who can ful­fil it (a cy­clist with a ther­mopack and a will­ing­ness to ride across the city to bring you din­ner).

Some rid­ers are sup­pos­edly ‘reck­less’

De­liv­eroo was in the news this week on both sides of the Ir­ish Sea. Here, Dublin City Coun­cil wrote to De­liv­eroo, and also to its ri­val JustEat, to com­plain that some rid­ers are sup­pos­edly “reck­less” on the roads. Hell yeah – re-read the para­graphs above for ex­hibit A. Mean­while, in Lon­don, the high court up­held an ar­bi­tra­tion com­mit­tee find­ing that a trade union can­not claim col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights for De­liv­eroo rid­ers.

In a ma­jor win for the com­pany and its flex­i­ble busi­ness model, which is partly built upon es­chew­ing the costs and bur­dens of tra­di­tional em­ploy­ment, the com­mit­tee found that De­liv­eroo rid­ers can­not be said to be “work­ers” be­cause they can the­o­ret­i­cally sub-con­tract in­di­vid­ual de­liv­er­ies to other peo­ple.

It doesn’t make much sense that a De­liv­eroo rider could go through strin­gent hy­giene and safety train­ing, and en­ter a con­tract, only for the rider to be al­lowed off­load busi­ness to a ran­dom punter of whom De­liv­eroo knows noth­ing. But even if this the­o­ret­i­cal abil­ity is con­trived or un­likely, the com­mit­tee found, it still ex­ists. There­fore, the De­liv­eroo rid­ers can­not be said to be “work­ers” or em­ploy­ees, but rather they are in­di­vid­ual con­trac­tors in a busi­ness re­la­tion­ship with it.

Like the taxi app Uber and oth­ers be­fore it, De­liv­eroo is en­gaged in pub­lic de­bates across Europe about whether its rid­ers are gen­uinely self-em­ployed.

Or are they sim­ply or­di­nary work­ers co­erced beyond the pro­tec­tive bound­aries of tra­di­tional em­ploy­ment laws, mod­ern day chim­ney sweeps for a dig­i­tal age?

No hol­i­day or sick pay

Em­ploy­ment law puts all of us into one of two buck­ets: em­ploy­ees or the self-em­ployed. The gig econ­omy, with its low-paid army of the “self-em­ployed” with no hol­i­day or sick pay or other ben­e­fits, is test­ing that old di­chotomy.

The is­sue is still in its in­fancy. UberEats launched in Ire­land last month. De­liv­eroo al­ready has close to 1,000 rid­ers here. JustEat, which used to rely on rid­ers em­ployed by restau­rants, has now started to pro­vide its own. The food in­dus­try is only the start of it, too – on­line shop­ping is next. Ir­ish startup WeBringg says it can de­liver any­thing from a signed-up re­tailer to a cus­tomer in 90 min­utes, us­ing a fleet of self-em­ployed de­liv­ery driv­ers.

Some peo­ple are em­ploy­ees. Some are self-em­ployed. But oth­ers are, clearly, some­thing in be­tween, and in need of bet­ter pro­tec­tion. The law needs to catch up quickly, to find a third way.

In the mean­time, rid­ers, red means stop. For all our sakes.

‘‘ What could mo­ti­vate a food de­liv­ery rider to take such a stupid risk with his own life? After all, he was just de­liv­er­ing dead meat and veg­eta­bles. There’s no point end­ing up dead over it your­self

PHO­TO­GRAPH: JACK TAY­LOR/GETTY IM­AGES

De­liv­eroo rid­ers can­not be said to ■ be ‘work­ers’ or em­ploy­ees, but rather they are in­di­vid­ual con­trac­tors in a busi­ness re­la­tion­ship with it.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.