Gig Economy Project: Mixed reaction as GMB and Deliveroo sign first union recognition deal for riders in the UK

GMB agreement includes collective bargaining over pay, but IWGB union says the GMB – which has no background in organising food delivery couriers – “presents no threat” to Deliveroo’s “exploitative business practices”

Picture by Shopblock

The Gig Economy Project, led by Ben Wray, was initiated by BRAVE NEW EUROPE enabling us to provide analysis, updates, ideas, and reports from all across Europe on the Gig Economy. If you have information or ideas to share, please contact Ben on

This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in Europe is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust.

THE GMB union signed the first “union recognition deal” with a food delivery platform in the UK on Thursday [12 May], in an agreement that has received a mixed reaction from the trade union movement, given the union has no history of organising food delivery riders. 

The union said the “Voluntary Partnership Agreement” will mean GMB members “will have rights to collective bargaining on pay”, a condition which was excluded from the GMB’s historic recognition deal with ridehail platform Uber last year. However, other key aspects of collective bargaining, over conditions of work such as algorithmic management, safety and access to benefits, are only subject to “consultation rights” under this deal. 

Commenting on the deal, Mick Rix, GMB National Officer, described it as “the first of its kind in the world.”

“Tens of thousands of riders for one of the world’s largest online food delivery services will now be covered by a collective agreement that gives them a voice – including pay talks, guaranteed earnings, and representation in times of difficulty.”

He added that Deliveroo “deserves praise” for “developing this innovative agreement with GMB – a blueprint for those working in the platform self-employed sector.”

Will Shu, Deliveroo founder and CEO, said he was “delighted to partner with the GMB in this first-of-its-kind voluntary agreement”, adding that the “partnership is based on a shared commitment between the GMB and Deliveroo to rider welfare and wellbeing.”

Self-employment status

The agreement also recognises that Deliveroo riders are self-employed “following a series of UK court judgements which have confirmed this status,” the union stated. Deliveroo has sharply defended self-employment status, exiting the Spanish market last year after the ‘Riders Law’ made employment the default status in the sector and criticising the EU Commission’s draft platform workers directive, which made a similar proposals as the Spanish Riders Law. GMB’s support for Deliveroo’s position is thus a boon for the company.

However, the employment status of Deliveroo riders in the UK may not be as clear cut as GMB suggests. The decision of the Appeal court in June last year which found that Deliveroo riders were self-employed was not an employment tribunal case about a particular status, it was an application made to the Central Arbitration Committee for the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) to be recognised as the relevant union for collective bargaining. 

Commenting after the case, Benjamin Gray, lawyer at Littleton, said: “This is an unusual case, and it is worth treating it with considerable caution. The Court of Appeal’s decision is about the extent to which Article 11 required a more expansive definition of “worker” when dealing with trade union rights, rather than any wider consideration of the nature and extent of worker status in the gig economy…This case is therefore unlikely to be one that advances the debate about employment rights in the gig economy particularly far”. 

READ MORE: ’The offence of concealed work’: Suspended prison sentences and maximum fine for Deliveroo France

In France last month, Deliveroo executives were given suspended prison sentences and fines for not employing their riders, in the first criminal trial of a food delivery platform. Most courts across Europe have found that food delivery riders are employees. 

Mixed reaction

Reactions from the trade union movement about the deal were mixed. The Trades Union Congress’ General Secretary Frances O’Grady also praised the deal, saying it was “another landmark agreement that will give Deliveroo riders a real voice at work.”

She added: “This is a sign of things to come. Unions are starting to win the fight against insecure work and won’t rest until platform companies across the gig economy agree to work with their staff on improving pay and conditions.”

Rachel Reeves, Labour Shadow Chancellor, said the agreement “shows how innovation and a voice at work can go hand in hand”. 

“It is good that there are successful businesses who understand the value of trade unions in a modern economy,” she added. 

However, the agreement was not welcomed by everyone, with the IWGB union, which has been the main union for organising food delivery couriers in the UK, describing the deal as “cynical” and saying GMB “presents no threat” to Deliveroo’s “exploitative business practices”.

The union said: “The IWGB has been organising Deliveroo couriers since 2016, taking action, winning changes, and building a powerful union led by couriers. The IWGB was there at the first strikes organised by workers in 2016 when Deliveroo unilaterally slashed pay, and members of the IWGB organised a huge action last year around Deliveroo’s IPO. 

“Deliveroo has spent this time refusing to negotiate with its workforce and fighting the IWGB in court to prevent collective bargaining. Under this pressure, Deliveroo has cynically made this backroom deal with a union that has no record of organising couriers and presents no threat to its exploitative business practices, while a case is pending in the Supreme Court on the same subject. 

“Deliveroo is seeking to undermine the efforts of couriers pursuing their rights through the courts and fighting to improve their working lives. The IWGB has always been the couriers’ union of choice and will continue to organise and take action to win better working conditions for Deliveroo couriers across the UK.”

READ MORE: Grassroots unions question the value for drivers in GMB’s formal recognition agreement with Uber

Also commenting, the Rail and Maritime Union’s Piccadily & District West branch tweeted: “This stinks to high heaven”, adding that the IWGB “have been successfully organising couriers for years, this sort of client deal is designed to torpedo that militancy.”

Mohan Biswaas, a rider in the IWGB union, tweeted: “In 2016 I joined the IWGB while taking action standing shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues. IWGB supports drivers taking action. This agreement is GMB supporting Deliveroo in whitewashing its image in an attempt to stop its share price plummeting any further.”

Deliveroo’s problems

Deliveroo’s share price is down almost 70% over the past six months, as food delivery platforms struggle in post-pandemic crisis conditions, and with rising inflation putting a strain on household incomes. The company, part-owned by Amazon, issued a financial update in April which revealed Deliveroo remains a long-way off profitability and the number of consumers using the app in the UK and Ireland – it’s biggest market – is flatlining. 

In signing a recognition deal with GMB, Deliveroo has followed the playbook of Uber, which has subsequently used its agreement to claim a social justice mantle in the sector. In an earnings report issued earlier this month, Uber said that the GMB agreement was helpful in securing a new Transport for London license from London mayor Sadiq Khan last month. 

The earnings report also revealed that Uber’s UK ‘take rate’ – the amount of money the platform earns per ride – almost doubled from 12.6% in 2021 to 23.5% in 2022, the first year of the GMB-Uber recognition deal.

Research by the Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change found that Deliveroo was the company with most economy-related protest incidents in the world between 1 January 2017 and 20 May 2020.

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