Deliveroo cannot be legally compelled to engage with a union representing its riders for collective bargaining, Supreme Court judges have ruled.

Deliveroo riders in Manchester

The decision is the latest in a long-running dispute between Deliveroo and the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which has represented a group of riders over pay and conditions.

The case was previously dismissed by lower courts, but the IWGB appealed to the Supreme Court.

However, Judge Vivien Rose said Deliveroo riders did not have an “employment relationship” with the delivery company and were not entitled to compulsory collective bargaining as riders were free to decline offers of work and to work for the brand’s competitors.

The IWGB said: “As a union, we cannot accept that thousands of riders should be working without key protections like the right to collective bargaining.

“Whether reflected in legislation or not, couriers are joining the union in ever bigger numbers and building our collective power to take action and hold companies like Deliveroo to account.”

It is the latest in a number of claims bought by workers in the gig economy in recent years who have demanded rights such as holiday pay, the minimum wage and some form of pension contribution.

The IWGB has been at loggerheads with Deliveroo since 2017 when it was first refused permission to represent riders as they were not classed as “workers” under UK labour law.

While the IWGB appeal was rejected, the Supreme Court said there is nothing in UK legislation stopping riders from forming or joining a union, and nothing to prevent Deliveroo from engaging with them.

Deliveroo said: “This is a positive judgment for Deliveroo riders who value the flexibility that self-employed work offers.”

It also said it had agreed to a “voluntary partnership agreement” with GMB in 2021, which gave the union rights to collective bargaining on pay and consultation rights, benefits and other issues while still recognising the riders were self-employed.