Theresa May has been urged to investigate courier company Hermes after claims that it “hounded” workers who were at their dying son’s bedside in hospital.
Labour MP Frank Field asked the Prime Minister to set up an inquiry over allegations that the firm’s employees were “treated like dirt”, with complaints ranging from staff harassment to minimum wage breaches and bogus self-employment.
Hermes is one of the biggest courier companies in the UK, with its growth driven by the boom in online shopping.
But Field, the chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, said he had been contacted by “a number of current and former workers” who were appalled at the firm’s practices.
Among the complaints were claims that Hermes staff had been threatened with removal from work or reduced hours if they attended hospital appointments.
In a letter to the PM, Field 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.”
In another case, one employee alleged that her delivery round was withdrawn after asking for a day off to visit a friend who had cancer.
Hermes, which has been the subject of a Guardian investigation into its wage rates, denies many of the claims against it and has written to Field to discuss his concerns.
The company said that: “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.”
Field had further alleged that the company was paying less that the minimum wage rate of £7.20 an hour, once fuel costs for staff were factored in. The firm counters that its pay averaged £9.80 per hour.
Staff had complained they were effectively warned they should be available seven days a week and some said they got none of the benefits of flexible ‘self employment’ but had to accept all the risks and insecurity.
Hermes said that 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.
“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,” it said in a statement.
“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.”
On the ‘bogus self-employment’ claim, 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.
Field is currently locked in a row with former BHS boss Sir Philip Green over his handling of the company’s pension fund and takeover, before its collapse.