The linguistic backflips used by Deliveroo to pretend its employees are independent contractors


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/04/07/supplier-agreement-review.html


#2

Isn’t a court, or the IRS, going to look at the actual substance of the relationship over the terminology they use? IIRC it is determined based primarily on the amount of control the company exercises over the performance of the contractor/employee’s duties, not what they are called…


#3

I’m generally confused about what a rideshare/sharing/gig economy company actually looks like and is. To me it seems like it would just position itself as a service that independent contractors log into to find aggregated work. Like a anhanced version of freelanceswitch or something.

For example, they want to avoid saying “We pay you every two weeks”, preferring the more obtuse passive phrase, “Rider invoices are processed fortnightly.”

Why are they paying the riders at all? Shouldn’t it be that the riders manage their gigs through the website or other infrastructure of the company, then pay the company a fee for that aggregation and tracking service? eBay, AFAIK, doesn’t hold your money, then pay you “fortnightly” right? Where exactly is the line?


#4

They should take some notes from Uber on how to treat your employees like slaves…um I mean independent contractors.


#5

Yes. Actually it’s the Social Security Administration that rides point, and you get the investigation started with (I think) a form SS-7.

EDIT: Looked it up, form SSA-7160-F4.


#6

Wow, so they actually have hiring offices where they hire people and have them sign employment contracts, and they still think they can pull this shit and get away with it? I guess they saw that it worked for all the other “gig” economy companies… so far.


#7

Every day you get away with it is money in the bank. Plus it’s anti-competition since any ethical employer is already eating those deferred costs.

Shit like this is why I stay as far away from Capitalism as I can. This has proven more difficult than I anticipated.


#8

Before you get excited, Deliveroo is a British company.


#9

If you get a dangerously competent judge, or your opponent has good lawyers, horribly tweet exercises in distinction-without-difference aren’t going to save you; but if you can avoid that happening, they do have the potential to make the difference between internal communication being one long confession and being opaque enough to make the opponent work for it.


#10

Yes they do think they can get away with it, because the riders are contracted as freelancers, not employees. Hence the encyclopedia of euphemisms designed to obscure the fact that riders work as if they are employees and prevent managers inadvertently saying anything that would give the courts grounds for finding that riders are employees.


#11

Well IANAB, but I would imagine they have something similar. Maybe after they get finished jotting down that unwritten constitution.


#12

Well, twenty riders are planning to sue Deliveroo..


#13

I know the Dutch tax service requires a specific approved contract according to the new “DBA” law here. Enforcement of that law has been postponed for now (which is good for me, because their interpretation of it mostly seems to mean that freelance software developers aren’t allowed to work on big projects), but so far, their lousy interpretation of the law seems to mean that Deliveroo’s contract might be allowed, as long as the contractors are allowed to replace themselves. The Dutch post office uses something similar for their mail delivery people: some years ago, they fired them all and rehired them as independent contractors, and the tax service allowed that. With the new law, it’s still allowed, because the mail deliverers are replaceable. My contracts are not allowed because as a software developer, I’m not instantly replaceable.


#14

I am sympathetic to exposing and fighting exploitation of workers, but most of the articles I read complaining about working as contractors like this are badly-written in that they often don’t explain or even link to anything which explains why or how they aren’t actually contracting people. That has the effect of preaching to the converted, but encouraging some skepticism in those who are interested and looking for substance.

For example - I worked for years as a contractor, delivering packages as a bicycle messenger. And there were valid reasons why I would have been discouraged from using words which suggested that I was an employee - because that was not the kind of work relationship we had agreed upon. I cannot imagine any circumstances which would have inspired me to sue those I worked with into making me an employee, and don’t even know how that would possibly work.

So, I am probably missing a big part of the picture here. If you agree to work for somebody as a contractor, why complain that you are a contractor? And if they demand employee-type things of you as a contractor, what leverage do they have? Not use you anymore? That would be unfortunate, but in practice be the same as any other contract which didn’t work out due to other differences. Being your own business means that you are in no way beholden to anything extra they demand of you. You can ally with another company, or do it on your own independently. And you should!

Part of me wonders if they are simply hiring newbies who don’t know the difference between being contractors versus employed because “it’s work”.

ETA: In the Boston and NYC areas we had a similar-sounding company called Kozmo. I knew a few people who biked for them for a while, but when the work never came they kicked Kozmo to the curb.


#15

I think the point is that there are basic protections for employees in the UK where Deliveroo operates: For instance,

  • There’s a minimum wage which stipulates you must pay employees £5.55/hour to under 25s and £7.20/hour to over 25s.

  • Companies have obligations to collect tax at source from employees through the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) scheme.

  • Companies have obligations to pay into the National Insurance scheme (single payer healthcare) on behalf of their employees.

  • Employment in the UK isn’t ‘at will’. To dismiss someone, there’s a minimum notice period that must be given, defined in law, which increases with the length of employment.

  • UK doctors can issue medical leave when the employee is sick and needs time for treatment or to recover. This goes some way to protecting the employee against being made redundant whilst sick.

  • There’s statutory maternity and paternity leave if the employee starts a family.

If Deliveroo is allowed to redefine employees as contractors, they can bypass all these responsibilities and the costs of meeting them. This is bad for the affected workers who lose what would otherwise be their legal rights, and it’s bad for society because Deliveroo is effectively cheating other companies who follow employment law and incur the costs of doing so.

I think that’s what the court case / employment tribunal that the ‘contractors’ are bringing is about: Is the Deliveroo business model to hire newbies who can be exploited because they don’t understand the difference between being contractors versus employed?


#16

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