STOP PRESS: Self Employed Cyclist Runs Rings Round Courier Companies.....

The Central London Employment Tribunal has given judgment in the case of Dewhurst v CitySprint UK Limited in the next decision what may soon be a gargantuan overhaul of the gig-economy.

The case follows closely on the heels of Aslam & Ors v Uber B.V. & Ors in October of last year and sheds a greater light on the impact of contracts which do not reflect the realities of parties working relationships.

CitySprint engages around 3,500 cyclist couriers in the United Kingdom responsible for its courier service. The Company drew up contracts titled “Confirmation of Tender to Supply Courier Services to Citysprint Ltd” which defined these individuals as self-employed contractors.

The courier contracts were signed at the Company’s offices and required those couriers engaged under them to acknowledge key terms making clear the Company was under no obligation to provide work, that couriers could send a substitute to work in their place (if they fulfilled CitySprint’s criteria), that couriers were paid by the job and that if couriers were not working they would not be paid. Importantly couriers were required to acknowledge they were not entitled to maternity, holiday or sick pay.

Ms Dewhurst was one such cyclist, engaged by CitySprint to work in London. She worked approximately four days a week from 9.30am until 6.30pm during which time she would travel between the Company’s clients delivering items with gaps typically of between ten minutes and one hour, with a schedule confirmed by the Company’s controller that morning.

Ms Dewhurst remaining in constant contact throughout the day, receiving updating directions from the Company’s controller throughout the day.

Employment Judge Wage, finding Ms Dewhurst to be a worker for the purposes of s.230(3)(b) Employment Rights Act 1996, determined that the contractual arrangements did not reflect the realities of the parties’ arrangements (in doing so applying Autoclenz Ltd v Belcher [2011] UKSC 41)

What was interesting about the case was not so much the application of Autoclenz but the Judge’s assessment of the substitution clause in the CitySprint’s contracts. In reality, despite its wording, the clause did little more than allow couriers already engaged by the Company to sway shifts.

The Judge reflected on the fact that the acknowledgements and contracts were concluded at CitySprint’s place of work, which with other findings led her to conclude there was an inequality of bargaining power. 

Whilst the case is a first instance decision and not binding, it is likely to guide employment practitioners as they advise and represent clients in this progressing area of law.