After an Employment Tribunal ruled last year that Hermes couriers were workers (entitled to the minimum wage, paid holiday and other rights), Hermes has reached an agreement with the GMB trade union guaranteeing the couriers basic rights. It's believed to be the first trade union recognition agreement for gig economy workers, who have successfully challenged their self-employed status in a string of cases in recent years.
Couriers who want to retain self-employed status will be able to remain on their existing contracts - it will be interesting to see how many do so, as gig economy business often cite individuals' desire for flexibility to justify treating them as self-employed.
The Hermes/GMB agreement illustrates some key trends in the gig economy. First, businesses like Hermes have clearly seen the way the wind is blowing. Employment Tribunals and HMRC are increasingly determined to look behind the written contracts and scrutinise whether working arrangements are really consistent with self-employment. And since the Employment Tribunal fee regime was ruled unlawful in 2017, one practical barrier to legal challenges has been removed. Relying on the workforce not challenging their status is no longer a viable strategy. Second, trade unions are engaging actively with gig economy workers to give them a collective voice. The role of the media (and social media) is also significant: Hermes, Uber, Deliveroo and others have all been criticised for asserting that their workforces are self-employed.
It's not surprising that Hermes has decided it's better to take a proactive approach. It may be the first such agreement, but I doubt it will be the last.