CitySprint courier wasn't a freelancer, tribunal finds

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A new tribunal ruling has the potential to unsettle workers in the ‘gig economy’ who wish to keep making the most of their self-employed status.

In a judgment that could fundamentally affect the tax and legal position of such atypical workers, the tribunal said a CitySprint courier was actually a worker, and not a freelancer.

It means that Maggie Dewhurst, the claimant in the case, was right to assert that she deserved rights and protections that workers receive, in return for cycling 50 miles a day transporting medical items.

Although her contract with CitySprint implied the contrary -- that she was not employed but was instead an independent contractor, judge Joanna Wade strongly disagreed.

In fact, presiding at the Central London Employment Tribunal, judge Wade blasted her contractual arrangements as “window dressing,” saying they were “contorted” and “indecipherable”.

The criticism implies that while the contract was framed to reflect CitySprint’s belief – that they did not employ Ms Dewhurst and so she was not owed statutory protections (like holiday pay), it did not reflect the reality of her working arrangements.

Law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite (BWB), which represented the 29-year-old, spoke of their client being “controlled” by CitySprint, and being “economically dependent” on the company.

These two long-standing characteristics of employment appear to have helped judge Wade reach her decision, which BWB said echoed the finding against ride-hailing Uber.

However, CitySprint has both reportedly emphasised that it was not a test case (implying any application of the ruling would be limited), and vowed to review the judgement in detail.

Nonetheless, BWB points out that the case is merely the first in a series of actions against major courier companies, and says challenges against Addison Lee, Excel and E-Courier are due to follow in March and April.

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