Further expert commentary has emerged about the definition of self-employment following the latest employment tribunal ruling that Hermes couriers were not independent contractors but workers.

After the ruling, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) called for a clear, statutory definition of self-employment to be written into law, enabling genuine independent contracting professionals and end clients alike, certainty about where they stood.

Now, the Umbrella Company trade association, the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA), has concurred that existing definitions of employment status are exceptionally complex.

FCSA CEO, Julia Kermode, emphasised the need for employers to show due consideration on their methods of engagement to ensure that they are, despite the legal complexity, clear about whether their workforces are self-employed or employed. She said: “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.”

Even so, Kermode expects that Hermes will appeal against the latest tribunal hearing, meaning that the absence of clarity over the employment status of its couriers is probably due to continue for some time.

Meanwhile, Dave Chaplin, founder and CEO of the online information and support portal for contracting professionals, ContractorCalculator, agreed that the ruling, along with a series of others that preceded it, such as the recent verdicts over Pimlico Plumbers and Deliveroo staff, highlights a serious problem: some firms appear to have exploited the vagaries surrounding employment status to coerce workers into phoney self-employment.

Chaplin’s proposed remedy, which he has called on Parliament to implement, is the introduction of a new rule that would allow workers to be classified as ’employed for tax purposes’, a designation that would grant them the complete suite of employment rights automatically.

Seb Maley, CEO of the contractor tax advisory service, Qdos Contractor, urged the government to recognise that self-employed contractors should be in control of their own status without having this imposed upon them.

On a related note, responding to news that the cloud-based taxi-hailing firm, Uber, has been granted a probationary licence by Westminster Magistrate’s Court to continue operating in London, IPSE’s CEO, Chris Bryce, welcomed the decision as good news for the firm’s 45,000 hardworking partner drivers, as well as for the millions of Londoners who had embraced the service.

But, Bryce criticised the government’s continued failure to define self-employment properly in law, adding: “Rather than waiting for costly, time-consuming court cases – like yesterday’s Hermes decision – to determine employment status, the Government should write a positive definition of self-employment into statute.”

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