Exclusive: Labour accused of ‘going soft’ on gig economy firms - as Deliveroo sponsors conference fringe event

Photo: Mark Hall/NationalWorld
Just Eat have donated tickets worth thousands to the Labour party, while a number of former Labour staffers have joined firms like Uber in recent years

A grassroots union leader has criticised the Labour Party for ‘going soft’ on gig economy firms like Uber, Deliveroo and Just Eat.

Since September 2021, Just Eat has donated event tickets worth more than £3,500 to Labour MPs and staff, including Sir Keir Starmer, NationalWorld can reveal.

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The party has also been criticised over a fringe event taking place tonight (26 September) at the Labour conference which is sponsored by Deliveroo.

NationalWorld can also reveal that a number of former Labour staffers and a current councillor have taken up senior roles in gig economy firms or consultant lobbying firms representing them in recent years.

Unions have accused gig economy firms of “using the support of politicians and trade unions to whitewash their image”.

Grassroots unions that have been active in organising workers in the gig economy sector previously criticised “sweetheart deals” struck by Labour-affiliate union GMB with Uber and Deliveroo.

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‘Lip service’

Earlier this year, a union official at the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) reached out to Labour MP Tahir Ali on behalf of a constituent who had been removed from the Stuart Delivery platform without opportunity to appeal.

Grassroots unions have long complained about this practice, which can leave gig economy workers without a source of income at no notice, often erroneously.

While it is standard practice for a third party organisation such as a trade union to support members by reaching out to MPs for support on their behalf, an email response seen by NationalWorld states that Ali, “does not get involved with individual employment disputes between an individual and the employer”.

It continues: “If ACDU(sic) are not capable of providing the support or representation for its members, be honest an(sic) upfront with them. Refrain from passing the buck onto a member of parliament.”

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General Secretary of the App Drivers and Couriers Union, James Farrar, said that while some Labour MPs remain supportive of gig economy workers, the party leadership has “gone soft on gig economy employers”.

He said: “With years of endless dithering on employment legislation we need to see a Labour opposition on the front foot but instead it feels like Labour - locally and nationally - has gone soft on gig economy employers at exactly the wrong moment.”

Activists have criticised the party for allowing Deliveroo to sponsor a panel titled ‘Delivering a progressive gig economy,’ at a Labour conference fringe event this evening.

The row mirrors a similar dispute last year, when a senior Uber executive was invited to speak at a fringe event, despite ongoing strike action against the firm organised by ADCU.

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“During the previous leadership, Labour did support gig economy workers and extended solidarity, and the Labour Socialist Group of MPs still very much do support us,” said Farrar.

“But I fear there is now a creeping opportunism within Labour policy on the gig economy - we are supported with lip service only but there is no longer passion or commitment to stamping out the worst abuses of the gig economy by closing the loopholes and insisting on full pay for all working time.

“This is a shame and also a missed opportunity because it really does legitimise a whole new category of work that consigns mostly people from minority groups to second class rights and social, political and economic marginalisation.”

Analysis of the register of members’ financial interests, and the register of MPs’ staff and research assistants shows that Just Eat donated event tickets worth £3,846 to Labour MPs and staff in the last year.

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Just Eat sponsors the British Kebab Awards, an annual event which typically draws in a large number of politicians, lobby journalists and other Westminster figures, including lobbyists.

At last year’s event, Just Eat provided tickets worth £522 each to a number of Labour MPs’ staff members. Keir Starmer was given a ticket to the event and a ticket to the Taste of London awards, worth £192, both of which were given to a member of staff. Other MPs’ whose staff received free tickets to the event include frontbench shadow cabinet members Yvette Cooper, Bridget Philipson, Annaleise Dodds and Jonathan Ashworth.

Farrar said: “It is distressing that we didn’t have a single Labour elected rep support our strikes and demos, but now we hear they accepted hospitality that gave Just Eat access that workers are denied.”

‘Whitewash’

Union figures have also raised concerns that gig economy firms have hired people with existing links to the party, with Farrar describing Uber’s strategy as “looking to recruit their way into Labour Party influence”.

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A former political adviser to Jonathan Ashworth joined Just Eat as head of UK external relations in March 2021.

Earlier this year, a former Labour staffer who advised senior shadow cabinet figures and prepared briefings for MPs across the party joined Hanover Communications, a consultancy firm which lists Uber among its current clients, according to the register of consultant lobbyists.

Uber currently employs a Labour councillor as a senior operations manager. Princess Bright was central to the recently struck deal between the firm and the GMB union, which was criticised by grassroots unions as undermining their organising work.

Two more former Labour staffers currently have high profile roles at Uber, having joined in 2019 and 2020, although both left the party several years ago.

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Uber’s public policy manager and head of labour relations and regulatory policy have previously worked for the Labour Party, having left in 2013 and 2015 respectively. Both worked at Portland Communications in the intervening period, which has previously listed Uber as a client.

Alex Marshall, president of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), told NationalWorld that many Labour MPs and councillors have given “fantastic support” to the union and workers, and that engagement with gig economy companies is crucial to securing better rights.

“This support means a great deal to our predominantly migrant members who are exploited and treated as disposable by employers, and are made to feel unwelcome in the UK due to the hostile environment.

“It is important to sit at the table with employers and negotiate on pay and conditions, but if you do not have the mandate of an organised workforce who are willing to take action if negotiations do not go in their favour, these interactions will be meaningless and employers will walk all over you.

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“We have entered a new age where employers are now using the support of politicians and trade unions to whitewash their image while they continue to mistreat workers.

“The priority must be to hold bad employers to account for their abhorrent treatment of workers, and only once this has been rectified should politicians think about working with them.

“Workers in the gig economy are amongst the most exploited in the UK with the majority of them being deprived of even the most basic rights and protections.

“Employers in the industry must make huge reforms, starting with giving workers the bare minimums they are demanding, before any relationships could be at all amicable.”

Tahir Ali and the Labour Party have been approached for comment on this article.

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