Disruptive online service providers hardly fit into the legal framework that has been developed for decades within the classical economy. The repeated law cases in Belgium and other countries against for instance companies such as Uber show for this.
The success of food delivery services such as Deliveroo also provide the necessary legal discussions, in this case from a labour law point of view. Last fall for instance, the Belgian Public Prosecutor with the Labour Court (“Arbeidsauditeur”) has summoned a few hundred Deliveroo bikers for questioning as witnesses in an investigation into the way in which delivery bikers are forced to work under false pretences as self employed workers, while in reality they are employees. The research by the Public Prosecutor is ongoing at present. For its part, the Federal Public Sercice Social Security had already concluded at the beginning of March 2018 that a courier employed by Deliveroo does not perform an independent job, but is an employee and is therefore entitled to all the protection under social law that comes with the employee status.
Dutch courts see couriers as employees
In the meantime, on 15th January 2019, a Dutch subdistrict court in Amsterdam ruled that Deliveroo bikers are not independent service providers under Dutch law, but should be regarded as employees who fall under the social law protection of the Dutch collective labor agreement for “professional transport of goods”.
At the start of 2018, Deliveroo had decided to convert the employment contracts of all its deliverers into “partner agreements as an independent entrepreneur”, which immediately met with a lot of opposition from the couriers, who lost a large part of their social security.
The trade union for the transport sector, FNV, stepped to court in the name of two couriers and has now been confirmed in its argumentation that there is a relationship of authority between Deliveroo and its couriers, which has as a consequence that the couriers are actually employees.
The judge acknowledges that food delivery is not quite the same as “professional transport of goods”, but that does not exclude according to the court that the couriers still fall under the said cao.
Although the verdict only relates to the specific situation of the two couriers involved, it is clear that this decision could have far-reaching consequences for the business model of Deliveroo. In any case, Deliveroo has already announced that it will appeal against these judgments.