The deal has been dubbed a “PR stunt” and described as a form of union busting
A voluntary agreement between union GMB and app-based delivery company Deliveroo was met with outrage by grassroots organizers, who described the agreement as a “PR stunt” that would do “nothing” for workers.
Opponents of the move say the deal will allow Deliveroo to claim it is working with unions and GMB to increase its paid membership, all without the prospect of significant gains for workers.
GMB said the agreement will allow it to negotiate collective agreements on behalf of all Deliveroo drivers and defended its “long track record of organizing in the platform sector”.
What is the problem?
GMB say they have signed a “union recognition agreement” that will cover more than 90,000 workers using the Deliveroo app.
The voluntary partnership agreement will give GMB ‘rights to bargain collectively on pay’ and ‘rights to consult on welfare and other issues’.
GMB was keen to publicize the deal, releasing a glossy video on social media announcing the “new partnership”.
Although workers and base unions have long argued that drivers should not be treated as self-employed as this prevents them from claiming many employee benefits such as sick pay, the agreement recognizes the status of Deliveroo drivers as self-employed.
The video emphasizes that drivers “will continue to have the independent, flexible work that they value”, while Deliveroo “guarantees Deliveroo drivers a minimum wage”.
Deliveroo shared the video on its own Twitter page and wrote: “We are delighted to announce this unique partnership with GMB which will support our drivers with a focus on driver safety, protection, well being and diversity located.”
Why are the organizers upset about the deal?
Crucially, the agreement states that GMB will be recognized as “the only independent trade union for Deliveroo drivers in the UK”.
The base union IWGB has been organizing workers in the gig economy for several years and has particularly promoted app-based couriers and private rental drivers.
Union sources say they are disappointed that an established union like GMB has effectively undermined its organizing in the sector without offering tangible benefits for workers.
The IWGB is currently on appeal to the Supreme Court in a battle with Deliveroo to secure the right to collective bargaining, which the company has spent “hundreds of thousands of pounds” to prevent.
In a statement, the union accused Deliveroo of “undermining the UK legal system by preventing a successful legal recognition agreement with the IWGB by entering into a voluntary agreement with another union”.
They said: “This partnership benefits no one but Deliveroo and GMB leadership and we are calling on the government to review legislation on union recognition as it is routinely undermined by anti-union companies working with weak-bellied unions.”
“This is not the first time a union has undermined workers’ efforts by claiming to represent their best interests when in reality they are signing up to their fundamental rights. And it won’t be the last.
“The IWGB has always been the union of choice for couriers and we will continue to organize to achieve better working conditions. For us it is the organization as usual.”
A union source said the agreement appears to be an attempt to “push out the IWGB and mitigate one of the biggest risks to their business model”.
They added: “Having a sweetheart deal that cements the lack of truly enforceable rights for workers means Deliveroo removes the huge risk and the GMB scores a nice PR win. Ultimately, the local workers lose.”
Former Riding For Deliveroo courier and writer Callum Cant told Mazic News he’s upset with the GMB deal and how it’s being presented.
He said: “This sweet deal will do nothing to the low-wage workers who have spent the last five years striking and protesting for their rights. It’s a PR stunt, pure and simple.”
Speaking to Mazic News about the response to the deal, GMB National Officer Mick Rix said the agreement “has all the trappings of a traditional union recognition deal,” including “wage negotiations, dispute resolution, health and safety representation, Benefits and Complaints”.
He said: “GMB will now negotiate collective agreements on behalf of 90,000 drivers – other groups have less than 1 per cent membership and are totally unrepresentative.
“The overwhelming majority of Deliveroo drivers want to remain self-employed – a status that is repeatedly confirmed in court. They don’t want anyone taking that away from them.
“GMB has a long track record of organizing in the platform sector and will continue to lead this landmark deal.”
Concerns about pay and terms, despite the deal
The agreement states that Deliveroo is committed to providing drivers with a “minimum wage” that is “at least equal to the applicable national living wage plus the cost of jobs performed”.
However, Deliveroo drivers are currently only paid during an order, which the IWGB and grassroots organizers believe is unfair and effectively leaves many drivers working for less than minimum wage.
Base union sources have also raised concerns about certain elements of the agreement which they say may prevent GMB from taking meaningful industrial action against Deliveroo.
The agreement states that GMB is “committed to the long-term, sustainable business success of Deliveroo and nothing in this agreement shall undermine that objective”.
A GMB source said the agreement “does not stop the ability to take industrial action”.
Eve Livingston, author of Make Bosses Pay: Why We Need Unions, described the announcement as “cynical” and said the deal had the appearance of “union busting through secrecy”.
She said: “On the surface it’s easy to take any sign of working with unions as a positive step, but one only has to scratch the surface to see how cynical this particular announcement is.
“The IWGB union has worked hard for years to build power among Deliveroo workers and the vast majority of Deliveroo union members belong to this union. Forging an agreement with another union that has very few workers affiliates looks like covert union busting on the part of Deliveroo – blocking the union, which poses a real threat to its business model and the treatment of workers, and disguising it as progress.
Concerns were also raised about the nature of the agreement, as a partnership or voluntary arrangement rather than formal recognition of the union.
Ms Livingston added: “A ‘partnership’ is not and should not be construed as an agreement to recognize a union; Unions must be officially recognized in order to exercise their legal functions and represent the workers who need them meaningfully and without conflicts of interest.”
Deliveroo and GMB say they are focused on what matters most to drivers.
Deliveroo co-founder Will Shu is quoted in GMB’s press release announcing the agreement, which he describes as the “first voluntary agreement of its kind”.
He said: “Deliveroo has long demanded that drivers have both flexibility and security, and this innovative agreement is exactly the kind of partnership the on-demand economy should be built on.
“This voluntary partnership is based on a shared commitment between the GMB and Deliveroo to the welfare and well-being of drivers. Together we focus on what matters most to drivers.”
GMB has previously been criticized for striking a similar deal with Uber, another company that has been the subject of industrial action and workplace organizing by grass-roots unions.
The union also launched a safety campaign for app-based delivery drivers earlier this year, in memory of Gabriel Bringye, who was killed while working for ridesharing app Bolt.