A voluntary agreement between trade union GMB and app-based delivery firm Deliveroo has been met with outrage by grassroots organisers, who have decried the deal as a “PR stunt” that will “do nothing” for workers.
Opponents of the move say the deal will allow Deliveroo to claim they cooperate with unions and GMB to increase its paid membership, all without the prospect of significant gains for workers.
GMB said the agreement will allow it to negotiate pay deals on behalf of all Deliveroo riders and defended its “long track record of organising in the platform sector”.
What is the deal?
GMB says they have signed a “union recognition deal” which will cover more than 90,000 workers who use the Deliveroo app.
The voluntary partnership agreement will give GMB “rights to collective bargaining on pay” and “consultation rights on benefits and other issues”.
GMB has been keen to publicise the deal, sharing a glossy video on social media announcing the “new partnership”.
Though workers and grassroots unions have long argued that riders should not be treated as self-employed workers, as this prevents them from accessing many employee benefits such as sick pay, the agreement recognises Deliveroo riders’ self-employed status.
The video stresses that riders will “continue to have the self-employed, flexible work that they value” while Deliveroo will “guarantee minimum earnings for Deliveroo riders”.
Deliveroo shared the video on its own Twitter page, writing: “We are delighted to announce this first-of-its-kind partnership with GMB which will support our riders, focused on rider safety, security, wellbeing and diversity.”
Why are organisers angry about the deal?
Crucially, the agreement states that GMB will be recognised as “the sole independent trade union for Deliveroo Riders in the UK”.
The grassroots IWGB trade union has been organising workers in the gig economy for several years, and has made particular headway for app-based couriers and private hire drivers.
Union sources say they are disappointed that an established union like GMB has effectively undermined their organising in this sector, without offering any concrete benefits for workers.
The IWGB is currently in the process of appeal at the Supreme Court in a battle with Deliveroo to secure the right to collective bargaining, which the company has spent “hundreds of thousands of pounds” fighting to prevent.
In a statement, the union accused Deliveroo of “seeking to undermine the UK legal system in preventing a successful statutory recognition agreement with the IWGB by securing a voluntary agreement with another union”.
They said: “This partnership benefits nobody except Deliveroo and the GMB leadership, and we call on the Government to review the Union Recognition legislation as it has been routinely undermined by union-busting companies who partner with yellow-bellied unions.”
“This is not the first time a union has undermined the efforts of workers, claiming to represent their best interests but in fact signing away their basic rights. And it won't be the last.
“The IWGB has always been the union of choice for couriers and we will continue to organise to win better working conditions. For us, it is organising as usual.”
A union source said the agreement seemed like an attempt to “squeeze out the IWGB and mitigate against one of the biggest risks to their business model”.
They added: “Having some sweetheart deal that cements a lack of real enforceable rights for workers means Deliveroo clear the big risk and the GMB get a nice PR win. Ultimately it’s the workers on the ground who lose.”
Former courier and author of Riding For Deliveroo, Callum Cant, told NationalWorld he is angry about the GMB deal and how it is being presented.
He said: "This sweetheart deal will do nothing for those low paid workers who have spent the last five years striking and protesting for their rights. It’s a PR stunt, pure and simple."
Speaking to NationalWorld about the response to the deal, GMB National Officer, Mick Rix, said the agreement, “has all the trappings of a traditional trade union recognition deal,” including “pay bargaining, dispute resolution, representation over health and safety, benefits and grievances”.
He said: “GMB will now negotiate pay deals on behalf of 90,000 riders - other groups have less than 1 per cent membership and are totally unrepresentative.
“The overwhelming majority of Deliveroo riders want to remain self employed - a status repeatedly backed up in the courts. They don’t want anyone to take that away from them.
“GMB has a long track record of organising in the platform sector and will continue to lead the way through this groundbreaking deal.”
Concerns over pay and conditions, despite deal
The agreement states that Deliveroo is committed to providing riders with a pay “floor” which will be “at least the equivalent of the applicable National Living Wage plus costs for orders undertaken”.
However, Deliveroo riders are currently only paid while on an order, which the IWGB and grassroots organisers have argued is unfair and effectively leaves many riders working for less than the minimum wage.
Grassroots union sources have also raised concerns about certain elements of the agreement, which they say could prevent GMB from taking meaningful industrial action against Deliveroo.
The agreement states that GMB is “committed to the long term, sustainable business success of Deliveroo and nothing in this Agreement shall operate to undermine this objective”.
A GMB source said the agreement “doesn’t stop the ability to undertake industrial action”.
Eve Livingston, author of Make Bosses Pay: Why We Need Unions, described the announcement as “cynical” and said the deal has the appearance of “union-busting by stealth”.
She said: “On the surface it’s easy to take any sign of cooperation with unions as a positive step, but you just need to scratch the surface to see how cynical this particular announcement is.
“The IWGB union have worked hard for a number of years to build power among Deliveroo workers and the vast majority of union members at Deliveroo belong to that union. Entering into an arrangement with a different union that very few workers are members of looks like union-busting by stealth on the part of Deliveroo - blocking out the union that poses any real threat to their business model and treatment of workers, and dressing it up as progress.
Concerns have also been raised about the nature of the agreement, as a partnership or voluntary agreement, rather than formal union recognition.
Ms Livingston added: “A "partnership" is not a union recognition agreement and shouldn’t be taken as such; unions need to be officially recognised in order to exercise their legal functions and meaningfully represent the workers who need them, without a conflict of interest.”
Deliveroo and GMB say they are ‘focusing on what matters most to riders’
Deliveroo co-founder Will Shu is quoted in GMB’s press release announcing the deal, which he describes as a “first-of-its-kind voluntary agreement”.
He said: “Deliveroo has long called for riders to have both flexibility and security and this innovative agreement is exactly the sort of partnership the on-demand economy should be based on.
“This voluntary partnership is based on a shared commitment between the GMB and Deliveroo to rider welfare and wellbeing. Together, we are focusing on what matters most to riders.”
GMB was criticised previously for enacting a similar deal with Uber, another firm which had been subject to industrial action and workplace organising through grassroots unions.
IWGB is currently leading a national couriers strike against Stuart, a delivery partner of JustEat, which has gone on for more than 100 days, involving over a thousand riders across dozens of towns and cities.
The union also launched a safety campaign for app-based delivery drivers earlier this year, in memory of Gabriel Bringye, who was killed while working for the Bolt rideshare app.