An employment tribunal has ruled that a group of Hermes couriers have won their fight to be treated as workers instead of independent contractors in what has been described as one of the most significant victories against exploitation of gig-economy workers.
The tribunal in Leeds ruled that the couriers were entitled to receive the minimum wage and holiday pay, and to reclaim unlawful deductions from their wages, because they had incorrectly been classified as self-employed.
The GMB, which helped bring the claim, said the ruling was likely to affect 14,500 Hermes couriers who are engaged under the same contract as the 65 couriers who took the case to the tribunal.
GMB’s general secretary, Tim Roache said:
“This is another nail in the coffin of the exploitative, bogus self-employment model which is increasingly rife across the UK”.
“Bosses can’t just pick and choose which laws to obey. Workers’ rights were hard won, GMB isn’t about to sit back and let them be eroded or removed by the latest loophole employers have come up with to make a few extra quid.”
The GMB added:
“In an important ruling, which will potentially affect thousands of Hermes couriers, the tribunal ruled a group of Hermes couriers were not independent contractors, as Hermes argued, but are in fact workers who are entitled to essential workers’ rights.
“These include the right to be paid the National Minimum Wage, receive paid holiday and reclaim unlawful deductions from their wages.
“The ruling affects the 65 couriers that have already brought claims, but is also likely to impact upon the wider network of 14,500 Hermes couriers who are engaged under the same contract as the couriers.”
A Hermes spokesman said:
“We will carefully review the tribunal’s decision, but we are likely to appeal it given that it goes against previous decisions, our understanding of the witness evidence and what we believe the law to be.
“Nevertheless we have always been fully prepared for any outcome of this decision and its impact on 15 couriers and [the] former couriers [who took the case].”
The union said there would be a further hearing in the tribunal to determine the holiday pay, minimum wage and any unlawful deductions to which the Hermes couriers are entitled.
The IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed) has said the Government should write into law a positive definition of self-employment to provide clarity on who is and who is not genuinely self-employed.
IPSE’s Director of Policy Simon McVicker commented:
“The uncertainty about who is and who isn’t genuinely self-employed must stop.
“It is unacceptable that policymakers are relying on costly, time-consuming court cases as the first port of call in determining employment status.
“IPSE is calling on the government to write into law a positive definition of self-employment.
“This would provide peace of mind to the self-employed and companies looking to engage them.
“It would also prevent companies from universally declaring that everyone is a contractor when they should be considered workers or employees.
“We should be cautious, however, not to take today’s case as being representative of the ‘gig economy’ or wider self-employment, and then try to regulate these ways of working into oblivion.
“The reality is that the vast majority of self-employed engagements are what they claim to be: genuine business-to-business engagements which are beneficial to both parties, and to the wider UK economy.”