In Dewhurst v CitySprint UK Ltd, the London Central Employment Tribunal has ruled that a bicycle courier was a ‘worker’ of the courier firm for the purposes of the Employment Rights Act 1996, despite the contractual documents describing her as a self-employed contractor. The case is a further example of a tribunal finding that a so-called ‘gig economy’ worker can claim employment protections, following the ruling in favour of Uber workers in October 2016.

Dewhurst works as a cycle courier for CitySprint UK Ltd, which operates a fleet of between 50 and 60 such couriers in London. She typically, though not invariably, works four days a week from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm. During that time she moves from job to job, with gaps between jobs ranging from ten minutes to an hour. At the start of the day she speaks to a controller and logs into the company’s electronic tracking system, Citytrakker, and only logs out at the end of the day when she goes home. The Citytrakker system tracks couriers’ whereabouts and helps controllers to assign jobs. Controllers and couriers remain in contact through radio and mobile phones throughout the day.

CitySprint UK Ltd recruits couriers under a document which purports to treat them as self-employed contractors. When the document is signed at CitySprint UK Ltd’s premises, the courier is required to read and acknowledge a number of key terms in an electronic tick list on a computer. These terms make clear that the courier is under no obligation to provide services and CitySprint UK Ltd is under no obligation to provide work; that the courier may send a substitute to work in his or her stead, so long as the substitute fulfils certain criteria; that if the courier does not work he or she will not get paid; and that the courier is not entitled to holiday, maternity or sick pay. Once they start work, couriers are paid by the job. Although CitySprint UK Ltd refers to the payment process as a self-billing and invoice system, in practice couriers do not need to submit invoices for individual jobs – instead, CitySprint UK Ltd automatically calculates payments due and pays them weekly in arrears.

Dewhurst succeeded in a tribunal claim for two days’ holiday pay, the tribunal finding that she was a ‘worker’ during the time that she was logged into the tracking system. The tribunal found that the reality of Dewhurst’s working conditions made it clear that she was integrated into CitySprint UK Ltd’s business. She was expected to work when she said she would; she was given directions throughout her ‘on circuit’ time; she was instructed to smile and wear a uniform; and she was told when she would be paid and how much, according to CitySprint UK Ltd’s calculations. Thus, she was not working for herself but on CitySprint UK Ltd’s behalf.

Employment Tribunal rules that a bicycle courier is a worker