On 11 April 2018 an Italian employment tribunal held that riders working for the food delivery app service Foodora were self-employed contractors and not employees. This article describes the background and reactions to the decision.

By: Marco Sideri

Firm: Toffoletto De Luca Tamajo e Soci

The case

Six Foodora riders filed an employment claim before the Turin Employment Tribunal at the end of 2017 claiming:

  • that their contracts should be reclassified as employment contracts;
  • that their termination (they were allegedly disconnected from the app after protests took place in October 2016) should be held to be unfair and/or illegal.

The decision

On 11 April 2018, the Employment Tribunal rejected all the riders’ claims. Therefore, it can be assumed that the judge concluded the riders were self-employed contractors. The reasoning behind the decisions has not been made public or issued at this stage, so any speculation on the actual arguments is impossible. The judge simply read the rejection of all claims and will issue a full decision in due course (the official deadline for the decision to be issued is 60 days from 11 April).

The case involved witness examination and it is safe to assume that the decision will be based, at least partially, on the evidence obtained during this examination.

The legal background

As general background, under Italian law there are two categories of workers: self-employed contractors and employees. There is no third category (‘workers’ in the UK). Delivery riders generally belong to the self-employed category, since they are free to choose when to work, rather than the employer deciding.

This is the first decision on a rider’s status case from an Italian Court. There are no precedents for the food delivery sector in recent years and therefore no decision on the so-called gig economy (or platform worker) model. Relevant case law can be traced back to the 1980s when the Italian Supreme Court (‘Corte di Cassazione’) stated that motorcycle messengers (known as ‘pony express’) were self-employed contractors rather than employees on the grounds that they had the right to refuse service and decide if and when to work. The last decision of this kind dates back to 2011.

Reactions to the decision

The Torino decision gained considerable media attention and has intensified the debate on food delivery platform workers in general. Reactions focused on general riders’ rights, health and safety considerations (particularly road accidents), data protection, privacy and monitoring (relating to use of the app for the service). Questions relating to social dumping (the practice of using cheap, usually migrant, labour to reduce costs) and economic dependence were also discussed as a factor influencing the model for possible contract solutions.

The six riders have announced they intend to appeal the decision, but this will of course depend on the reasoning in the judgment, when the judge publishes it.