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Bolt drivers take legal action over employment status

Drivers argue they have been wrongly classified as self-employed, and are seeking backdated wages and holiday pay

More than 1,600 drivers working for ride-hailing app Bolt are seeking compensation “after years of being denied holiday pay and the National Living Wage”, on the basis they have been wrongly classified as self-employed.

Brought on behalf of drivers by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) and law firm Leigh Day, the legal action will argue that Bolt drivers should be classified as workers rather than self-employed, which would entitle them to basic rights such as guaranteed minimum earnings, holiday pay and protection from discrimination.

Founded in 2013, Estonian-based Bolt has approximately 65,000 drivers working for the firm across 14 cities in the UK and was valued at $8.4bn earlier this year.

Bolt driver and lead claimant in the case, Amadou Diallo, said while he values flexible working because it, in theory at least, gives him time to be with family and have more control over his life day-to-day, the flexibility means nothing without rights.

“With pay often below minimum wage in real terms, and with a lack of holiday pay, I am forced to work long hours every single day, not leaving me enough time to see my children and live my life,” he said.

“It seems obvious to me that I should be entitled to basic rights and protections. I am not in control of the rides that come to me, I cannot promote myself, seek more work or set my own fees. All the work I do is for Bolt, and I deserve basic rights in return.”

Nader Awaad, chair of the IWGB’s United Private Hire Drivers’ branch, agreed that flexibility should not come at the expense of workers’ rights and protections.

“Because Bolt drivers are wrongfully misclassified as independent contractors, they are denied holiday pay and forced to endure wages that are often, in real terms, below minimum wage. Limb (b) worker status would ensure that drivers have both flexibility and rights,” said Awaad.

“Across the gig economy, we are witnessing a series of landmark legal challenges as the law finally catches up with companies that exploit legal loopholes and treat their workers as disposable.”

In February 2021, for example, the UK Supreme Court ruled that Uber – which Leigh Day lawyers say has a similar business model to Bolt – should classify its drivers as workers rather than self-employed individuals, following a legal challenge brought by private hire driver Yaseen Aslam and his union, the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU).

However, although Uber agreed that March to pay its UK drivers the minimum wage, it said this would only apply for the time they are assigned to trips, rather than, as the Supreme Court explicitly ruled, from the time they log in to the app.

In September 2022, the IWGB also launched a similar legal claim against food delivery app operator Deliveroo, arguing that riders have been denied collective bargaining rights and seeking to establish their worker status.

“Leigh Day is confident that Bolt drivers should be given worker status and the rights this affords. The Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK, has already ruled in favour of Uber drivers in their workers’ rights claims,” said Charlotte Pettman, a solicitor in Leigh Day’s employment team.

“This should be a clear warning to other companies with similar business models that they cannot continue to short-change their drivers,” she added. “With the whole of the UK feeling the effects of the cost-of-living crisis, now more than ever it is vital that drivers receive holiday pay and at least the National Living Wage, as they are entitled to.”

Bolt said the company “complies with applicable laws and regulations specific to our business”.

A Bolt spokesperson said: “The Supreme Court ruling related to Uber’s operating model in 2016 which is different to our own.

“Bolt’s operating model means drivers receive higher earnings per trip and benefit from total flexibility. Our extensive driver engagement shows time and again this model is what the vast majority of our drivers want.

“We operate in a highly competitive market to attract drivers so it is in our interests to operate a model that works best for them; if not, they will go elsewhere.”

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