GMB union strikes deal for Hermes couriers

The deal gives couriers some, but not all, of 'workers' legal rights

The union representing Hermes parcel couriers has struck a deal with the company’s management, allowing drivers to “opt-in” to employment rights.

Working conditions for Hermes 15,000 couriers have been heavily criticised.

According to the Guardian, couriers are often paid less than the “national living wage”, which is what the government calls the minimum wage for over-25s. Hermes has denied this.

As the drivers have not been regarded as “workers” in a legal sense, they have not received holiday pay, sick pay, pensions, guranteed minimum wage or legal protection from discrimination.

Last year, 200 couriers took Hermes to an employment tribunal which ruled that they should be regarded as workers and given the associated rights and pay.

Hermes was planning to appeal which would have dragged the GMB into another expensive legal battle.

However, Hermes has now agreed to drop its appeal in return for the GMB agreeing that couriers are not given full ‘worker’ status but something called ‘self-employed plus’. Additionally, this is not to be given to all couriers but only those who opt in to it.

There are fears among some in the trade union movement that Hermes will offer couriers better pay or more choice over routes if they do not opt in to ‘self employed plus’.

If many chose the pay and flexibility over the rights, this could then be used to argue that gig economy workers don’t want employment rights.

‘Self-employed plus’ status gives workers holiday pay (pro rata up to 28 days) and a guranteed minimum wage. They will also still earn if admin issues cause delays. However, this status does not give the couriers pensions, sick pay or legal protection against discrimination.

Tim Roache, GMB General Secretary, said:

“Hermes is leading the way, looking after the people who work for you on the ground day in, day out, is not only good for business but the right thing to do.

“As a result of our ground-breaking agreement, couriers will have a real voice in their workplace as well as the right to holiday pay and guaranteed pay, something GMB Union has long been campaigning for on behalf of our members.

“Full credit to Hermes. They’re showing that the gig economy doesn’t have to be an exploitative economy and we look forward to working with them through this ground-breaking agreement.Other employers should take notice, this is how it’s done.”

Jason Moyer-Lee, the General Secretary of the IWGB Union, which represents many gig economy workers but not Hermes couriers was less unequivocally positive. He said:

“The Hermes/GMB collective bargaining agreement is a victory for trade union representation in the so-called gig economy. However, despite having lost an earlier tribunal case establishing that its couriers are entitled to employment rights, Hermes is only offering paid holidays to those who opt in.”

“Because of the inequality of bargaining power and the ability to companies to induce or threaten workers out of rights, employment law cannot be treated as optional.”

Joe Lo is a reporter at Left Foot Forward

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