The growing popularity of companies using cyclists to deliver food and products is forcing firms to consider the various legal and insurance-related implications of employing cycling couriers, explains solicitor Oliver Jeffcott.
As US presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton recently stated: “This on-demand “gig” economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”
As a solicitor specialising in cycling cases, I am often asked about the law for cycle couriers. The rise of companies using cyclists to deliver food, such as Deliveroo and UberEats, has added another dimension to this.
Deliveroo, for example, recently saw a large proportion of its 5,000 UK couriers go on strike due to unfair changes to employment contracts. Given the number of people now working in these industries, it is important individuals understand their rights.
How can couriers protect themselves if they are injured
Currently bicycle couriers are considered self-employed contractors. This means they are not entitled to workers’ rights such as sick pay, holiday pay, minimum wage, discrimination protection, pension contributions or maternity or paternity pay.
Couriers in London cycle around 60-80 miles a day and are normally paid between £2 and £3 per delivery. Travelling this distance in London traffic brings an inherent risk of injury following a collision.
There is a growing risk that couriers in such circumstances – unable to work following an incident – get into serious debt and financial difficulty.
There is insurance that couriers can get to protect themselves against the risk of injury. However, given that couriers earn around the minimum wage and already have to pay for the upkeep of their bicycle out of their salary, there has so far been little uptake of policies.
Where the courier has a strong case against the other road user they can bring a claim. In many cases, their solicitor can request an interim payment to be offset against any damages they later receive.
If injured in a hit and run accident or by an uninsured driver, there are still options. They may still be able to get compensation through the Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB). All motor insurance policies contribute to this fund – which covers hit and run incidents as well as incidents caused by uninsured drivers.
Where a courier is injured and it is their fault it becomes more difficult. In these circumstances, a courier in the capital could get some help from the London Courier’s Emergency Fund. This is a charitable organisation providing support and financial help to bicycle couriers who have suffered injury.
Are they really self-employed?
While couriers are seen as self-employed, there is currently a legal action under way trying to overturn this view.
Some may query why riders for companies like Deliveroo are any different from other self-employed people. However, couriers are arguing that they tend to work for one firm (often for 50 hours a week) and are not permitted to accept work from companies. These businesses often have a high level of control of their riders: they have to wear a uniform and carry an ID tag, and cannot get somebody else to deliver the goods.
There are three tiers of employment status: employees, workers and self-employed. If couriers can show that they are workers or employees then they would be entitled to a significantly higher level of rights than they currently enjoy including sick pay, holiday pay and minimum wage.
An estimated 4.8 million people in the UK are self-employed, so the legal challenge has far reaching implications.
The transit of goods is at the very centre of courier businesses – a parcel carried by the courier will normally be insured by the company. These firms should also be bearing the risk of harm caused to their workers during delivery.
Oliver Jeffcott is a personal injury lawyer at London-based BL Claims Solicitors.
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