I was struck by the news this morning of the deal between courier firm Hermes and the GMB Union on employment status. The latest in a line of challenges to self employment and the so called gig economy.
Employees will now be able to opt to have 28 days paid holiday and a guaranteed hourly rate above the minimum wage, in return they will have to accept to follow the delivery route set out by the company rather than choosing the order in which they deliver their parcels.
The logic presented by the company is that if they’re going to guarantee an hourly rate then they need to ensure that couriers take the most efficient route. Which on first reading makes sense, but also raises an underlying question.
Is the suggestion that people are less likely to seek the most productive route if they are paid by the hour, that they’re more likely to (for want of a better word) slack? Or is it that the company don’t care about lack of productivity if they’re not paying for it, that’s the courier’s (and subsequently the customer’s) problem?
Whichever way you look at it, it points to an interesting interpretation of the contract of employment – that “terms” trump the psychological aspects of the employment relationship between worker and employer. It suggests issues of trust.
My guess is that the company is trying to distinguish between the self employed and employed by taking away a freedom that their current couriers appreciate and enjoy. If you want the good stuff (holidays and guaranteed wage rates) then there’s a cost to you too – the deal is on the back of losing an earlier employment tribunal.
But regardless of the specifics of the case it raises questions for us all. What assumptions do we make about the behaviours of people that work for us? And do those assumptions help or hinder what we are collectively trying to achieve?