A BBC investigation has discovered child labour working for food delivery apps in the gig economy, yet the businesses they work for seem powerless to intervene. This is because app riders are ‘self-employed’ and they can substitute someone else to do the work – which encourages a trade in online accounts, including to children.
How has this happened?
When workers sign up to deliver for the online food apps, they have to pass background checks including their identity, age, previous convictions, and right to work in the UK. Once they have successfully joined the app, it is the duty of the worker to ensure that any substitute who does deliveries on their behalf is eligible and meets the criteria to work.
The BBC investigation set up a fake social media profile as a 16 year old boy and was able to rent delivery app accounts from the three main online food platforms.
The family of a 17 year old who was tragically killed whilst delivering for an app have decided to speak out because they feel so strongly. His stepfather Patrick says: “No-one’s accountable, they just take the money. It’s not right.” Leo was just 15 when he first rented his Deliveroo account from a man in the town where he lived. Two years later Leo was killed on a borrowed motorbike – he was only 17 but still working for the app. The minimum age to work for the company is 18.
What is being done?
Clearly this situation cannot be allowed to continue, and the Home Office has intervened. In a letter to Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Just Eat, Robert Jenrick MP said:
“The Government expects you to end this unfair and dangerous practice [of allowing substitutions] and, as swiftly as possible, evidence to us the processes and technology implemented – such as facial recognition software – to enforce that position.
If progress towards this outcome cannot be demonstrated, the Government will be forced to consider all options to prevent illegal working and exploitation in this sector.”
So it seems that gig economy companies will be forced to disallow their workers to substitute themselves.
Impact on employment status of their workforce
Gig workers are usually engaged on a self-employed basis, and being able to send a substitute is a key indicator of being genuinely self-employed. Therefore, a consequence of the government’s diktat could change their employment status, with the riders being classed as ‘workers’ or employees. This is important because the workers would be entitled to certain statutory rights, and potentially expensive as paid holiday would certainly be one such right.