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Deliveroo’s Dutch Supreme Court ruling provides little clarity for the sector

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Riders working for Deliveroo are employees, not freelancers, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled on Friday, in a potentially precedent-setting case for the country’s platform economy.

The case was brought to trial by trade union FNV, which has been engaged in a legal battle with Deliveroo since 2018. The dispute started when the British firm announced it would discontinue work contracts for its delivery drivers, instead offering them the option to continue as freelancers. FNV immediately filed a lawsuit, arguing that the drivers deserved the legal protections afforded to permanent staff members. 

FNV deputy president, Zakaria Boufangacha, said that, as freelancers, Deliveroo’s employees had virtually no say over pay rates and working conditions. “As a result, they have to pay and arrange their own insurance, days off and pensions. And they don’t do it, because the pay is far too low,” he said. 

In 2019, the Court of Amsterdam supported the union’s stance, ruling that delivery workers were pseudo-freelancers because there was an established authority relationship between Deliveroo and its drivers. The company, judges argued, could monitor what the employees were doing, workers were not completely free to work when they wanted, and they had no say in the drawing up of their contracts, as freelancers would. The Supreme Court has now confirmed those rulings, putting an end to the years-long dispute. 

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Even though Deliveroo left the Dutch market last year, the ruling could have major implications for businesses that operate in a similar manner in the Netherlands, regardless of their sector, predicts FNV union leader Anja Dijkman.

”This Supreme Court ruling matters to hundreds of thousands of self-employed workers,” she said. Dijkman says she has been concerned for years about the position of self-employed workers in the platform economy (those who work for online platforms like Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb). 

The ruling, she said, will make it harder for companies like Deliveroo 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 added.   

There are currently some 1.2 million self-employed workers in the Netherlands, and that number is growing daily. For years, the government has been working on new rules to clearly differentiate an employee from a self-employed person, but there has been little concrete progress to date. Trade unions and politicians are concerned about this legal grey area, and they say a clear definition is needed. 

Margreet Drijvers, director of the interest group Platform Independent Entrepreneurs (PZO), believes that Deliveroo’s judgment does not provide this clarity. “The Supreme Court has actually left everything as it was — no new criteria have been introduced to precisely define what exactly is or isn’t a self-employed person,” she said. 

Not all delivery drivers are happy with the verdict, either. “I lost my job because of FNV,” said former Deliveroo delivery driver Eddy. As a self-employed person, he can choose which rides he drives and how many hours he makes, he said. Now he works for Uber Eats. 

In potentially good news for drivers like Eddy, employment lawyer, Joyce Snijder, also believes that the Deliveroo ruling will have little influence on similar cases — such as those involving taxi service Uber and temp agency Temper — which are currently before the courts. 

Whether the case sets a precedent or not, one thing is for sure — as more and more workers enter the platform economy, the need for legal clarity for self-employed workers is becoming increasingly urgent.

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