CitySprint has been accused of “making a mockery” of Britain’s employment rights system after changing couriers’ contracts rather than giving them the minimum wage and holiday pay, despite losing an employment tribunal case on the issue.
The company, which has 3,500 self-employed couriers in the UK, said it had dropped an appeal against a ruling by the central London employment tribunal that it had unlawfully failed to award holiday pay to Mags Dewhurst and wrongly classed her as a self-employed freelancer. But CitySprint said it had changed contracts for all its cycle couriers.
In January, the employment judge Joanna Wade described its contractual arrangements as contorted, indecipherable and window-dressing. The tribunal found Dewhurst should be classed as a “worker” and entitled to paid holiday and the national minimum wage under employment law.
CitySprint argued it was an “individual appeal” that did not apply to the company’s thousands of other independent contractors.
Employment lawyer Martin Warren of Eversheds Sutherland said CitySprint’s decision to apply the tribunal’s findings to just one member of staff was risky for the company.
“With the abolition of tribunal fees earlier this year, the chances of further waves of cases have probably increased. In any subsequent cases, the issue would not be a change in the paperwork. The tribunal would focus on whether there have been any operational changes on the ground,” he said.
CitySprint indicated it had not changed the way it operated but had altered employment contracts to better reflect its relationship with the cyclists, who it says have always been independent contractors.
A spokesperson said: “We have updated our [cycle] courier tender documents to simplify the language in these, further clarifying the rights and flexibilities available to self-employed couriers who provide their services to us. We enjoy a great relationship with couriers, who continue to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of their current role.”
The company will pay Dewhurst about £200 in holiday pay owed from the period covered by the tribunal, but it is understood she will not receive holiday pay in future under her new contract.
Dewhurst told the Guardian: “As a result of my tribunal claim, CitySprint has forced everyone at the penalty of losing our jobs to sign new documents they say are contracts but we work in exactly the same way as before nothing has changed. It’s a shame CitySprint would rather engage in legal shenanigans than pay me and my colleagues our holidays.”
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, which backed the case against CitySprint, accused the courier firm of ignoring the employment tribunal ruling and said it planned to hold the company to account.
Jason Moyer-Lee, the IWGB general secretary, said: “It is outrageous that CitySprint is choosing to simply flout the ruling of the employment tribunal. They are making a mockery of our system of employment rights and protections and they will pay a price for doing so. It goes to show that in the absence of government enforcement of employment law companies will try to act with total impunity.”
CitySprint’s move comes after gig economy rights campaigners suffered a blow from a key legal ruling on Tuesday. The Central Arbitration Committee, a body that resolves worker disputes, found that takeaway courier firm Deliveroo’s delivery riders were self-employed contractors, not entitled to holiday pay or the national minimum wage, as they had the right to allocate a substitute to do their work for them.
CitySprint said that it was awaiting the government’s response to the Taylor review, which looked into ways to improve pay and conditions for those in the gig economy. The company said it hoped the government response would “bring much-needed clarity and guidance in this important area for both organisations and individuals”.
The government has said it expects to respond to the review, which called for legal clarification of the definition of self-employment, by the end of this year.
Employment law experts said CitySprint was likely to have decided to drop its appeal after taxi hailing app Uber lost a similar appeal at the Employment Appeal Tribunal last week.
Drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam won an employment tribunal case last year after arguing they should be classified as workers, citing Uber’s control over their working conditions. Uber has said it plans a further appeal.
Similar cases have also been successfully brought against Pimlico Plumbers and Royal Mail subsidiary eCourier. Pimlico Plumbers’ final appeal on the issue is to be heard at the supreme court in January.