Hermes faces gig economy legal battle over self-employed couriers

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Delivery company Hermes has become the latest company to face legal action over the rights of gig economy workers, as a tribunal challenging the employment status of some of its couriers got underway yesterday.

The case, which was heard at an employment tribunal in Leeds, is being brought by trade union GMB on behalf of eight couriers.

The claimants, who are described as ‘lifestyle couriers’ and carry out deliveries for popular brands such as Topshop, John Lewis and Asos on behalf of Hermes, are currently being treated as self-employed. This means they are not entitled to the same rights, such as holiday pay or the national minimum wage, as employees.

GMB said the couriers were being “denied basic workers’ rights by being forced to declare as self-employed”.

Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, added: “GMB’s courier members do a tough job – working long hours with unrealistic targets. They make a fortune for companies like Hermes; the least they should be able to expect in return is the minimum wage and their hard-fought rights at work.

“Guaranteed hours, holiday pay, sick pay and pension contributions are not privileges companies can dish out when they fancy. They are the legal right of all UK workers, and that’s what we’re asking the courts to rule on.”

Although the case only involves eight couriers, Nick Evans, partner at London law firm Fletcher Day, told People Management that Hermes may have to review and amend its contracts with all its couriers if the case is successful.

“As with all these gig economy cases, the tribunal will look at the particular facts of this case, and this has largely to do with whether the couriers are considered workers or self-employed,” Evans added.

There have been a number of recent cases relating to employment status in the gig economy. In February, the long-running legal battle between Pimlico Plumbers and plumber Gary Smith was heard by the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal had previously upheld the decision that Smith, who worked exclusively for Pimlico Plumbers between 2005 and 2011, was a worker and entitled to employment rights, such as holiday pay and the national minimum wage.

Meanwhile, last November, Uber lost its appeal in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which upheld a previous tribunal ruling that two of its drivers were ‘workers’.

However, also in November, the Central Arbitration Committee found that Deliveroo drivers were technically self-employed.

Evans noted that previous rulings hinged on the facts of each particular case and would not necessarily affect other areas of the gig economy.

“These are all going to be fact-specific,” he said. “It won’t create a precedent for all the workers in the gig economy, and it will very much depend on the terms of the people in the gig economy.”

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