Status experts grumble at Just Eat making couriers self-employed

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A reported decision by Just Eat to lay off 1,700 of its UK workforce as part of a move to swap out 'workers' with self-employed couriers is worrying freelancing experts.

In fact, three such experts told FreelanceUK yesterday that they fear the takeaway-delivery firm is making the redundancies to re-categorise its workforce solely on the grounds of costs.

'Won't be entitled to employment rights'

That’s because as one of the experts, Seb Maley of Qdos pointed out, as self-employed individuals, Just Eat’s new couriers “won’t be entitled to statutory employment rights.”

Not having to grant individuals with these enshrined worker rights, which include paid sick leave and holiday pay, is easier and less costly for end-users.

And it’s likely Just Eat is aware of exactly how much of a saving it could yield, as another of the experts, Julia Kermode of IWORK, says she understands the couriers were freelancers initially.

'Status shouldn't be determined based on potential financial difficulties'

But “employment status shouldn’t be determined based on the potential financial difficulties” of the end-user, said Kermode, referring to losses for Just Eat hitting a reported £5billion.

Formerly CEO of the Freelancer & Contractor Services Association, and speaking generally, she added: “[Status] should be determined on the facts of the engagement.

“If it’s not genuine self-employment, then [due to the lack of rights afforded to self-employed individuals] it’s exploitation – simple as that.”

'Business decision by Just Eat, driven by profits'

But for Just Eat, which spoke to the Guardian of “reorganising and simplifying” to improve “efficiency,” following its orders in the UK dropping by 10% last year, the rationale for its reclassification probably is simple.

“This is a business decision, no doubt driven by profits, to take the couriers back to self-employed status,” ReLegal Consulting told FreelanceUK.

The legal firm’s Rebecca Seeley Harris surmised that Just Eat is possibly ‘following the example’ of its rival Deliveroo, whose workers have not been able to secure ‘worker’ status, despite repeatedly trying.

'Risk worth taking'

Seeley Harris added last night: “The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain is taking the Deliveroo case to the Supreme Court…but, IWGB kept losing [its bid to have Deliveroo riders recognised as workers.]

“So what Just Eat is reportedly doing is a big risk. But based on the Deliveroo case, Just Eat probably feels emboldened to give it a go…[as a risk] worth taking.”

In a decision that serves to underline that risk, Amazon yesterday had its application refused, after the retailer tried to quash claims by its self-employed drivers that they deserve employee rights.

'Jumping to conclusions'

At IWORK, where Kermode is CEO, there was an acknowledgement last night that without knowing the terms of their engagements, "jumping to conclusions" about the status of people working for Just Eat, or Amazon, would be ill-advised.

“But you only need to look across the 'gig economy' to see how many of these workers want and need employment rights,” she said.

'Rigorous status assessment'

At Qdos, where Mr Maley is CEO, the thinking is that a “rigorous status assessment” of the couriers’ contracts and working practices is the ultimate way to establish if Just Eat is correct to engage them on a self-employed basis.

“The criteria for determining employment status mirrors that of IR35 status,” he said.

“And for these couriers to be genuinely self-employed, they should, in theory, control how they provide the service, should not be obliged to work a certain number of hours or days and ultimately, shouldn’t be subject to the same regulations and rules as Just Eat employees.”

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