LONDON — Uber and Deliveroo have come under fire over their contracts with drivers and couriers, with an MP slamming Uber’s contract as “gibberish.”
The parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee has published contracts used by London food delivery startup Deliveroo, Californian ride-hailing service Uber, and online retail giant Amazon as part of its inquiry into the gig economy.
And Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead and the chair of the committee, has torn into the companies over the language used and legal clauses that are apparently intended to dissuade workers from trying to get employment rights.
“Quite frankly the Uber contract is gibberish,” he said in a statement published Thursday. “They are well aware that many, if not most, of their drivers speak English as a second language — they recently lost a court case trying to escape TfL’s new English testing rules for private hire drivers — yet their contract is almost unintelligible.”
A particular area of concern for the committee is a clause found in Deliveroo’s contract that required workers to “agree that they are not workers, and to agree not to challenge their self-employed status in court” — something that may not be legally enforceable. (Deliveroo has said it is removing the clause.)
“And [Uber’s contact], like Deliveroo’s, contains this egregious clause about not challenging the official designation of ‘self-employed’, when the way they work looks in most ways an awful lot like being employed,” Fields added.
“These companies parade the ‘flexibility’ their model offers to drivers but it seems the only real flexibility is enjoyed by the companies themselves. It does seem a marvellous business model if you can get away with it.”
The criticism comes a day after ITV and The Guardian reported on guideline documents used by Deliveroo to avoid using any words that could be construed to imply its riders are employees.
The gig economy is under increasing scrutiny in Britain. The term loosely refers to the rising number of businesses whose workers work as independent contractors rather than in-house employees, often organised via smartphone apps. Proponents argue that it gives workers flexibility and freedom in how and when they work, but critics counter that it deprives workers of employment rights and leaves them in precarious positions.
In 2016, Uber lost a legal battle over the employment status of its drivers (it is appealing), and Deliveroo is facing a similar legal challenge.
Reached for comment about Frank Field’s comments, a Deliveroo spokesperson told Business Insider: “As outlined to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, we are always revising our supplier agreement to ensure it reflects how we work with riders in practice. That is why we are removing the clause discussed, which has never been enforced, in the coming weeks. As a British business, we’re proud to offer well-paid flexible work to 15,000 riders across the UK and we’re committed to ensuring that as the company continues to grow riders continue to benefit from that growth.”
An Uber spokesperson said: “Almost all taxi and private hire drivers in the UK are self-employed. We’ve always been clear to drivers who use Uber that they are self-employed and free to choose if, when and where they drive with no shifts, minimum hours or uniforms. There is nothing in our terms to stop anybody challenging this. In fact a small group of drivers recently took us to an employment tribunal claiming they’re not self-employed. We recognise our terms could be written in plainer English and we started the process of revising them some time ago.”
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