Business

Hermes UK hounding low-paid workers, MP claims

Hermes Image copyright Hermes

A Labour MP has accused the courier company Hermes UK of "hounding" its employees, including the parents of a dying child.

Frank Field has written to the prime minister calling for an investigation into the firm's working practices.

A recent Guardian investigation found some of its workers were effectively paid less than the minimum wage.

Hermes UK said it would investigate the specific cases raised in the letter and that its pay averaged £9.80 per hour.

The compulsory National Living Wage, for those aged 25 and over, currently stands at £7.20. Younger workers can earn less.

In his letter to Theresa May, Mr Field, who is currently locked in a battle with Sir Philip Green over the collapse of BHS, wrote: "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."

'Seven-day week'

Mr Field said that he has been contacted by "a number of current and former workers" regarding company procedures which make them feel as though they "are being treated like dirt".

The six procedures he says have been raised by couriers are:

  • Hospital appointments - employees threatened with removal of work if they attend
  • Legal minimum wage - once fuel costs factored in, paid less than minimum wage
  • Holiday arrangements - only permitted if they arrange full cover
  • Seven-day working - workers fear they have to be available for work every single day
  • Tax obligations - suggestions that Hermes UK may be shifting profits overseas to avoid paying fair share of tax
  • Bogus self-employment - couriers say they get none of the benefits of flexible self-employment but shoulder all the risks and insecurity

Hermes UK rejected all of the complaints above. The company said it had written to Mr Field to invite him to discuss the contents of the letter.

Of the claim about the "hounded" parents, it said: "Until this morning, we were unaware of the accusation concerning the young boy in hospital and the pressure put on his parents.

"Whilst we are currently investigating that claim, we would like to make it extremely clear that we are absolutely appalled by this story and, if it proves to be true in any way, we will take decisive action."

'Legitimate'

On the legal minimum wage, it said: "Our records prove that on average, our network of 10,500 self-employed couriers receive the equivalent of £9.80 per hour after deductions, 36% above the National Living Wage of £7.20.

"All couriers have received a 2.5% increase in payments since the start of the year and minimum pay is increasing to £7.50 to reflect this."

As far as the bogus self-employment claim was concerned, the firm said HMRC had reviewed its courier model in 2011 and confirmed that it was legitimate, adding that it would be happy for HMRC to come and revisit at any time.

"We use internal and external tax and employment law specialists to ensure that the services that our couriers perform for Hermes, and the way these services are directed by Hermes, is consistent with self-employment at all times," the company said.

It said it did not expect couriers to work a seven-day week and it had 4,500 "specific cover couriers to support our permanent couriers" so that they were able to take holidays.

"We would like to make it absolutely clear that Hermes UK does not transfer any monies overseas to avoid paying tax. We pay all taxes due in the UK," the statement concluded.

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