The recent move by Hermes and the GMB Union to collaboratively find a way to resolve the employment status of Hermes’ couriers is a positive step, offering those couriers the option of enhanced rights and taking the discussion out of the law courts.
It is a smart compromise on both parts. Whether it will survive the scrutiny of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is another question, however, especially given that one aspect of the deal is that it seems to offer Hermes greater say in the routes drivers take, ultimately increasing the chances that HMRC will view these couriers as employees.
The issue of greater control over delivery routes is an interesting one, as it highlights a wider challenge around the gig economy and its potential for ‘digital Taylorism’, namely the attempt to maximise efficiency by standardising the tools and techniques used for completing each task involved with a given job.
Hermes’ deal can also be questioned as it only offers couriers the option of rights in terms of pay and holiday entitlement, rather than affording all couriers those rights as a minimum.
While the main focus of debate so far has rightly been on employment rights, it also brings to the fore the issue of what we want work to look like in an era of increasing technological sophistication.
The increasing capability of technology to afford employers ever-greater abilities to monitor and supervise employee actions and schedules runs contrary to what we know about the importance of worker autonomy when it comes to the quality of work, worker stress levels and, ultimately, productivity.
Dan Lucy is deputy director, HR consultancy at the Institute of Employment Studies