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Courts continue to side with Gig Economy workers in new ruling

by Lauren Fonseca
2nd July 2018


Last week, at an employment tribunal in Leeds, a group of 65 couriers working for large delivery firm Hermes were ruled not to be self-employed, but as ‘workers’.Critics are citing this as one of the most significant rulings against the gig-economy model many firms, such as Uber, City Sprint and Deliveroo.

We previously discussed a similar case brought against a plumber working for Pimlico Plumbers. Earlier this month, similarly, Gary Smith (the plumber in question) won a legal battle against the firm as the court ruled that Smith was in fact entitled to workers’ rights, despite being VAT registered and paying self-employed tax for the duration of his time with Pimlico Plumbers. Similar verdicts have also been brought upon Uber, City Sprint, Excel and Addison Lee, as UK judges seemingly continue to rule in favour of workers.

The claim against Hermes was helped into action by trade union The GMB, who have argued that by being classed as self-employed, Hermes workers have lost out on benefits such as minimum wage and holiday pay.

It is expected that this judgement will have a knock-on effect on the thousands of couriers working for Hermes across the country, as they may now be entitled to claim these basic employee benefits. The GMB have also announced that they plan to take legal action against multiple Amazon delivery companies for the same reasons.

Also last week, food delivery firm Deliveroo settled on a six-figure payout with a group of 50 couriers in a similar case in which the couriers argued that they should be entitled to these basic employee rights. The case was settled without an admission of guilt on the part of Deliveroo and so unlike the Hermes ruling, will not have precedence in court or have any level of roll on effect on other Deliveroo couriers. A spokesperson for Deliveroo confirmed that this settlement will not have any impact on their working model. “Courts have repeatedly considered Deliveroo’s model and judged that riders working with us are self-employed.”

Knowing that Deliveroo have settled, is this a sign that they are worried of the potential ramifications of the courts not ruling in their favour, but instead ruling for the workers as they have with so many other firms, including Hermes? However, given that Deliveroo have won cases against workers in the past, it’s important to note that conversely, maybe cases of this ilk aren’t the easy win for the worker that some might be led into thinking they are.

Are these rulings truly a blow against the ever-growing gig economy? Is it living on borrowed time, or is it a sustainable business model and the future of hiring? As more and more cases continue to appear on the very subject at increasingly higher courts across the country, it may still be too early to tell. Certainly, most firms with cases against them don’t seem to be satisfied with the court rulings that have taken place so far, adamant that they have interpreted the law correctly and that their workers are indeed ‘self-employed’.

Hermes are expected to appeal the decision, as many of the larger firms have done before them.

More on the Gig Economy:
The Gig Economy: An Update (March 2018)
Hiring and the Gig Economy