UnionDues: 5 important discussions on the GMB/Deliveroo agreement

'Is this a remarkable negotiating coup or a sharp move to take IWGB out of the game?'

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The deal between GMB and Deliveroo is the focus of a special UnionDues podcast episode, which drops at noon today. You can access this and all episodes here.

Now this has been a bit of shock and awe situation. I mean Deliveroo? Self-employment aficionados. Bracketed with Uber, and Hermes and Pimlico Plumbers in the pantheon of the exploitative, one-sided flexibility, denial of workers’ rights.

And the GMB? Well, this really could be extra-ordinary. Unlike Uber and Hermes, there is no court case or litigation-orientated campaign. There’s been no discernible organising push by the union. But there has been quite sustained activity on the ground from the non-TUC affiliated IWGB.

So, alongside the “awe” stuff , with admiration and endorsement from the TUC and Labour front bench, the “shock” has been expressed by IWGB who called the deal “a cynical PR move”. And it’s true that this voluntary agreement between Deliveroo and GMB prevents IWGB securing a statutory recognition agreement

So, who is right? Is this a remarkable negotiating coup or a sharp move to take IWGB out of the game? I sat down with the lead negotiators for GMB and Deliveroo, Mick Rix and Joe Carberry respectively, to get beyond the headlines and under the bonnet of this highly significant deal. It makes for a rich, lucid, comprehensive discussion on how the deal came about, what it does (and does not) cover, and why the GMB have arguably, stolen a march on the IWGB.

But it’s worth getting to grips with five issues that came up in the conversation, because they have general ramifications for unions and organising.

1. Statutory recognition prospects

Would the GMB have crossed that thresh-hold for the statutory process for union recognition in the UK, any time soon? And, just as pertinent, what about the IWGB?

On the numbers, GMB is saying they have members working off a number of platforms which, by implication, makes it hard to get an accurate assessment. IWGB’s membership figures, on the basis of the obligatory annual reports to the Certification Officer, seem to put them nowhere near that required level.

2. The unfettered right of substitution and general self-employment

The unfettered right of substitution was cited a number of times as proof that Deliveroo riders are legitimately self-employed. This is substantially true. What it means is that you can off load a job onto someone else, or simply decline to take it. The rider or driver has a much greater level of control than, say, a conventional employee or even a worker.

So, there is much to support the view that these people are self-employed, and, if the figure given by Joe of 10,000 enquiries a week is correct, there is a clear appetite for this way of working.

3. The EU’s platform working directive

There is an EU-level project to agree a binding definition of self-employment that can then be used to determine which employment rights, if any, people are entitled to. The Platform Workers directive is currently being considered by the European Parliament. The key measures are first that there is a presumption that workers are employees unless it can be proven otherwise and second, that issues that are increasingly managed by algorithm like lay and contracts are subject to collective bargaining. Contrast that with the UK government’s continuing inability to present an Employment Bill . Cleary most of what happens in the EU doesn’t directly affect us, but it will affect the EU based branches of firms that also operate in Britain.

4. Worker status

Worker status is a curious thing: Since 1996, you can be employed, self-employed or a worker.  A worker has some of the rights of an employee because their self-employed status is constrained in some way – work allocation, needing to wear corporate clothing, no right of substitution etc.

The legal wins against Uber, Pimlico Plumbers and Hermes (now Evri) were all about the employment status. The distinctive (and for some, controversial) feature of the Deliveroo/GMB deal is that it leaves the self-employment model essentially untouched.

5. Multi-platform working

Riders and drivers have to work off many platforms in order to gather together enough in earnings to get by. Is that right? Shouldn’t people be able to earn enough without keeping more balls in the air than a circus juggler?

This is a matter of public policy as much as employment modes – and recommendations for making gig working fairer and therefore more manageable is just one of the things being smothered by the continuing absence of an Employment Bill.

When all is said and done

So, when all is said and done, what to make of the GMB-Deliveroo deal? I’m clear in my view. It is bold, innovative and important.  Where else do you see the best part of 100,000 of the  self-employed brought under one agreement? And whilst it does eclipse IWGB aspirations of their own recognition agreement, the numbers suggest that they are not close to the thresh-hold for that.  More importantly, from the IWGB’s perspective, there is ample scope for them to grow their membership just as there also is for GMB. The two unions seem to me to be making different pitches to the tens of thousands of potential members out there.

Earlier UnionDues shows examining the GMB/Uber deal are here and here).

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