Frank Field MP
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Frank talking to the BBC about his letter to the PM on Hermes’s treatment of ‘self-employed' workers


27 July 2016
BHI1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London, SW1A 2AA
                                                                                                                                                                               22 July 2016

Dear Theresa 

I am writing to ask whether you might initiate an inquiry into the working practices at Hermes UK, and in particular how they square with your ambition to raise the living standards of low-paid workers.

You may be aware that Hermes UK is reported to have been paying its self-employed workers less than the legal minimum wage. I have been contacted in recent days by a number of current and former workers – all of whom were contracted by Hermes UK on a self-employed basis – regarding six particular aspects of Hermes UK’s operating procedures which, in the words of one courier, make them feel as though they ‘are being treated like dirt’.

Hospital appointments

Couriers report that they are threatened with the removal of work if they attend a hospital appointment.

In one case that was shared with me by a former Hermes UK worker, a six-year-old boy was taken to hospital for an emergency leg amputation and was put on life support. His parents were both couriers and, while they were at their son’s side, they were told by Hermes UK that if they did not return to work immediately they would have their rounds taken off them. Their son then died in hospital, and yet still they were being hounded to return to work, or face losing their delivery rounds.
In another case that has been reported to me, a courier who attended their own hospital appointment was rewarded by Hermes UK with an immediate loss of work.

The legal minimum wage

Couriers report that, once fuel costs are factored in, they are paid less than the legal minimum wage for their work.

I have been contacted by one courier who receives 60p per parcel, but nothing for a failed delivery when a customer has provided an incorrect address, for example. Once fuel costs are factored in, their typical day’s earnings are £18 for three-and-a-half hours’ work. This working arrangement is compounded by a total absence of holiday pay and sick pay.  

Another courier informed me that during their time on one particular delivery round, the wage rate for a standard parcel had steadily declined from £1.65 to £1.50, before falling even further to £1.15.

Moreover, a courier who lost work because their car had broken down during a delivery round was told by a manager, ‘you should have a spare car on the drive then, shouldn’t you?’

Holiday arrangements

Couriers report that they are only permitted to book time off work if they have arranged for, and trained in advance, another worker to provide full cover, and even then they are threatened with the removal of work upon their return.

In one case, a courier with three children gave two months’ notice of her wish to take off a Bank Holiday Monday over the Christmas period so they could visit a close family friend who had been diagnosed with cancer. Their manager responded by taking away their delivery round.

In another case, a courier was due to take time off following a family bereavement. They were warned that doing so would result in a loss of work, and so they incurred a loss of £250 to cancel their holiday. 

I have also received reports of couriers returning to work halfway through their holiday, for fear of the consequences of not doing so.

Seven-day working

Couriers report that Hermes UK is now rolling out seven-day working arrangements that will effectively result in workers having to make themselves available for work every single day, for fear of losing work if they request a single day off.

One courier has reported to me that a popular device being used by managers is the threat to, ‘import East Europeans to take your rounds.’

Tax obligations

One courier suggested that Hermes UK may be shifting its profits overseas to avoid paying its fair share of tax in this country.

Bogus self-employment

From what the couriers have told me, it seems as though they enjoy none of the benefits that are supposed to come from flexible self-employment. But they do shoulder almost all of the risks and insecurity. They appear to have no real choice at all over their own working patterns, and no real control over their own lives. 

Each of these main areas of concern will, I hope, prompt the Government to inquire into whether Hermes UK is complying with its legal obligations. But I hope also that the Government will take a serious look at whether the practices that have been reported here are undermining your agenda for protecting the interests of low-paid workers in our country.

Best wishes and I look forward to hearing from you,   

Frank Field 



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