The delivery company Hermes faces a legal battle with a group of its own drivers today, in the latest case promising to have major ramifications on labour rights in the growing gig economy.
The move follows similar recent hearings on how companies, including the ride-hailing firm Uber, engage gig economy workers, so-called because employees are paid in return for the “gigs” they perform.
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The new action has been brought by eight couriers at Hermes, which delivers packages for retailers such as Next, Asos, John Lewis, Topshop and River Island.
The drivers claim they are being denied basic workers’ rights by being forced to declare as self-employed, meaning they are not entitled to holiday pay or to be paid the legal minimum hourly rate under the national living wage.
The rival delivery firm DPD last month offered all of its drivers drivers sick and holiday pay as part of wholesale reforms to its gig working model sparked by the death of a driver it charged for attending a medical appointment to treat his diabetes and who later collapsed and died.
The Hermes claim mirrors several other similar tribunal hearings – including verdicts in cases brought against Uber, Addison Lee, City Sprint, Excel and eCourier – where judges have ruled that the staff should be given the legal classification as “workers”, thereby receiving the minimum wage and holiday pay rights.
In 2016 the ride-hailing firm Uber was told its drivers should be classed as “workers” with minimum-wage rights.
Uber, which says its drivers are self-employed, lost its appeal against the decision last year but said it would appeal again. The case could end up in the supreme court this year.
Tim Roache, the general secretary of the GMB union, which has been involved in bringing the Hermes claim, said: “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.
“Companies like Hermes and Uber hide behind terms like ‘flexibility’ to wriggle out of treating the people who make them their money with the respect they deserve.
“Guaranteed hours, holiday pay, sick pay, 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.”
In February Theresa May announced a number of new labour policies that she said would mean “tangible progress” towards upholding workers’ rights, in response to a Downing Street-commissioned review by Matthew Taylor.
However, there was disappointment from workers, trade unions and Labour that the government has only pledged to consult on possible changes to the use of self-employment, which may not include changing the law.
Hermes did not comment. Uber said that in a survey of its drivers conducted in September, 80% said they wished to remain working as an independent contractor.