Deliveroo, founded by a former Canary Wharf banker Will Shu, has come under pressure to give employment rights to a group of its food couriers in the wake of the Uber ruling.
The fledgling “gig economy” has increasingly come under pressure to offer more recognisable support for its drivers, including union recognition, holiday pay and a minimum wage.
Taxi firm Uber recently lost a legal battle in an Employment Tribunal to define drivers as self-employed contractors rather than employees dealing a significant blow to a sector exploiting the connectivity of the web.
Deliveroo delivers food from restaurants which do not have their own delivery service, including Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Pizza Express.
Now the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is asking Deliveroo for union bargaining for a group of Camden riders.
IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee said: “What we’re asking for is a collective bargaining agreement, and that means it’s for the zone of Camden, but this is just a test run and if we win this we can roll it out to other zones.
“And what that means is that Deliveroo would have to negotiate pay and terms and conditions with the union which would be acting on behalf of the workers.”
Deliveroo has 10 days to respond before the IWGB opts to go to the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) for a ruling.
Mr Moyer-Lee said: “CAC would have to decide that Deliveroo drivers are workers and not independent contractors, so it’s another way of achieving a change in employment status, similar to what was done with Uber,” he said.
The company says it is “committed to providing great opportunities” for its riders.
Already Deliveroo has found its employment practices under scrutiny when, in the face of a storm of criticism, it modified a new deal to pay per delivery rather than per hour and offered a minimum payment and petrol money.
A Deliveroo spokeswoman said: “We are committed to providing great opportunities for UK riders, with the flexible work riders value, and a payment model which is fair, rewarding and better matches riders’ time with our customers’ orders.
“We welcome the opportunity to further engage with riders, policymakers and the unions as the sharing economy in Britain continues to grow.”
Will Shu developed the business model while working for Morgan Stanley and launched in 2013, taking on the giant Just Eat.
He said: “Back then I was literally working the same hours as in New York. I had to go to Tesco’s every night or Chilli’s and it just became really depressing.
"I know this isn’t a global issue but, when you’re working that hard and you don’t think about anything else, your sense of reality becomes warped and it becomes a huge issue.”