To be or not to be a worker – that is the unanswered question

The question of what defines a worker and what does not has once again hit the headlines.

The latest case to be brought to tribunal asking this question involves 65 couriers, who brought a case against delivery service Hermes claiming they had been denied basic workers’ rights.

The Independent reports the tribunal ruled yesterday that the couriers were not independent contractors as Hermes had argued, but instead were workers, and therefore entitled to rights such as the National Living Wage and holiday pay.

Commenting on the verdict, Julia Kermode, CEO of trade association The Freelancer & Contractor Services Association (FCSA), said the case demonstrates that employment status is a complex issue. She also stressed the importance of employers showing careful consideration towards how they engage their workforce and whether they are genuinely employed or self-employed.

“Employers should treat their workforces properly so that exploitation cannot happen, and it is unacceptable that employers should be allowed to shirk their responsibilities to provide basic workers’ rights,” Kermode said.

However, Kermode anticipates that with Hermes likely to appeal, the lack of clarity for their couriers over their employment status is likely to continue for a while yet.

Dave Chaplin, CEO and founder of online portal ContractorCalculator, an online information portal for freelancers and contractors, said the ruling alongside other rulings relating to employment status demonstrate a “major” problem where firms have “forced” workers into false self-employment.

Consequently, Chaplin called on Parliament to introduce a rule that would see self-employed workers classed as ‘employed for tax purposes’ and automatically receive full employment rights.

Meanwhile Seb Maley, CEO at contractor service provider Qdos Contractor, called for genuinely self-employed workers to be in control of their own status, and not have this forced upon them. 

He added the danger was this could have huge implications on the accuracy of tax status and the amount of tax the worker and the engager of the worker must pay.

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