One of the UK’s largest trade unions is taking legal action against Bolt in a bid to force the ride-hailing service to reclassify its drivers as workers so they get better benefits, following the success of a similar case against Uber last year.
The action by the GMB union, the UK’s third-largest by membership, comes as gig economy companies, who together contract tens of thousands of drivers and restaurant-delivery couriers across the country, continue to resist calls to voluntarily offer pensions and other employment conditions.
The GMB is taking Estonia-based Bolt to an employment tribunal in London, arguing that its drivers should have the same rights to minimum wage, holiday pay, pensions and other benefits that were granted to Uber’s drivers after a landmark Supreme Court decision in 2021.
“We notified Bolt some time ago that we would have no other option unless they agreed to sit down with GMB and negotiate a voluntary recognition agreement that included collective bargaining and voluntary worker status,” said Mick Rix, GMB’s national officer.
The GMB’s case follows similar action launched last year by members of a smaller union focused on gig workers, the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU), which spearheaded the successful action against Uber to designate its drivers as workers.
Following the Uber case, the Pensions Regulator appealed to other gig economy companies to “do the right thing” and also offer eligible staff a pension. But a Financial Times survey found other large ride-hailing services have been reluctant to follow suit.
Bolt, which says it has more than 60,000 drivers across the UK, said it had an “open dialogue” with the GMB.
“We regularly engage with drivers across the UK who say they like our existing model because it gives them the opportunity to earn more,” Bolt said, citing lower commissions than rivals such as Uber.
“There is huge demand across the sector and all operators will need to keep improving their offer to encourage drivers to use their platform. Because of this Bolt will be launching new driver features and campaigns which we know appeal to drivers soon.”
Deliveroo recently struck a voluntary partnership with the GMB for collective bargaining on pay and consultation rights on benefits. However, the online food delivery company does not offer its 90,000 self-employed riders a workplace pension.
“Self-employed status means they can work flexibly — the most important thing to the overwhelming majority of riders — and the UK courts have confirmed their self-employed status multiple times, including the Court of Appeal,” Deliveroo said.
Ola and Free Now, both ride hailing apps, declined to comment.
While legal precedent has been set for app-based drivers to receive more benefits, a series of actions attempting to challenge Deliveroo’s contractor model have so far been defeated by the courts, leaving most of the couriers who deliver restaurant food without pensions or other benefits. That includes Uber Eats couriers, who were not granted the same rights by the courts as the San Francisco-based company’s drivers.
Speaking ahead of an appearance this week before MPs investigating gig economy pensions, Uber said it would support legislation to force a level playing field with competitors such as Ola and Bolt.
“It is high time other operators followed suit, to ensure drivers have access to a pension and all other protections whichever platform they choose to drive on,” said Uber.
In the absence of any near-term legislative changes to UK law governing gig workers, unions say they have been forced to fight for workers’ rights through the courts.
“What is the point of these regulators if they are simply encouraging, and not telling, these companies what to do,” said Yasseen Aslam, president of the ADCU which has more than 4,000 members.
“It shouldn’t be left to workers to take on these battles.”
Meanwhile, the Pensions Regulator said it was “closely monitoring” the gig economy, which was “highly diverse and continually evolving”, and liaising with employers to ensure eligible workers are put into workplace pensions, as required by law.