Deliveroo couriers are salaried employees, not freelancers, Supreme Court rules

Meal deliverers for Deliveroo are employees and not freelancers, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday in a case brought by trade union FNV. The Netherlands’ highest court agreed with previous rulings by the district court and the court of appeal. The case could have a massive impact on the Dutch labor market, said labor union FNV this week.

In 2018, Deliveroo decided not to renew the expiring contracts of delivery drivers, instead offering them the option to continue as freelancers. FNV immediately filed a lawsuit, arguing that the delivery workers were still largely dependent on Deliveroo. Working as freelancers also meant that deliverers were earning less, had no cover if they ever became incapable of working, and could not get paid time off work if they were sick, among other things.

In the years that followed, Deliveroo repeatedly tried to prove that its delivery workers were indeed freelancers. The company argued that they were free to work when they wanted, could refuse deliveries, and could get someone else to replace them.

The courts disagreed. According to the previous two rulings, there is an authority relationship between Deliveroo and its deliverers. The company could monitor what the employees were doing through its app, for example. Delivery workers were also not really free to work when they wanted, as they were more likely to get deliveries if they made themselves available for a specific period in advance. The district court and appeals court also pointed out that delivery workers signed a unilateral contract drawn up by Deliveroo and had no say in what it contained, as freelancers would.

The Supreme Court now confirmed those rulings, putting an end to this years-long procedure. Previously, an independent legal advisor told the Supreme Court that the legal relationship between Deliveroo and its couriers should be viewed as an employment contract. All deliverers were given standardized contracts, and the work they carried out was nearly identical to each other. The brief did note that deliverers could chose their own shifts, making the work potentially more flexible, but their work was deemed to be a core process for the company. They were tracked and monitored, and their final wage was determined by the company. As such, they were not independent freelancers, but acting like salaried staff.

Deliveroo left the Dutch market last year, but the ruling could still have significant consequences for the company if FNV demands that it back pays delivery workers’ benefits and wages. The ruling can also have major implications for businesses that operate in a similar manner in the Netherlands, regardless of their sector.

FNV union leader Anja Dijkman predicted earlier this week that the ruling would impact the entirety of the Dutch labor market, making it harder for companies to try to claim their staff members are actually freelancers just because it is a cheaper way to operate a business.

“It will be case law that others can fall back on,” she told RTL Nieuws. “The work of the delivery drivers did not change when Deliveroo determined that they had to continue as self-employed persons. But the risks, such as illness or disability, have been theirs alone ever since.”

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