A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Plight of self-employed workers earning below minimum wage

The story of low paid workers of delivery company Hermes highlighted in The Guardian is just one example of how some employers try to keep their costs down at the expense of their workers. These companies attempt to wriggle out of their employment obligations by using “self employed” workers, who often end up being much worse off than an equivalent employee on minimum wage.

These self employed workers are not only paid peanuts, but have to carry the burden of many things normally organised by an employer on their own. They are not entitled to sick pay or holiday pay and have to cover expenses such as fuel or unexpected maintenance of their vehicle or other work-related tools. The stress involved in having to hit delivery targets is considerable. Hermes drivers have to achieve their daily target no matter what; if they don’t their wages can drop below the legal minimum wage for equivalent employees. Worse still, if they injure themselves in the course of their work and are unable to work for a day or two then the losses pile up.

Hermes have passed on all the risks (including mental and physical health) to workers by simply classifying them as self employed. Some of the workers have complained to Frank Field, the chairman of the House of Commons work and pensions select committee and asked for help. He is now asking HMRC to take a closer look at the way some companies interpret the law in this regards. Whether or not this will have any effect stands to be seen.

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