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Delivery firm Hermes is to make a £1m fund available for its self-employed couriers, to help support them if they need to self-isolate as a result of the coronavirus.
It follows concerns about their welfare as self-employed people are not eligible for sick pay.
Hermes, which is based in Morley in West Yorkshire and has a tech hub in Leeds, said it has 1,449 Hermes couriers in Yorkshire who could benefit from the initiative.
The firm said it will also help couriers find someone to deliver on their behalf if they do not have a substitute. It has also guaranteed that their rounds will be kept open for them for when they return from self-isolation. The initiative is supported by the GMB Union.
Martijn De Lange, CEO of Hermes UK, said: “This is an extraordinary situation and we have taken the decision to help support our couriers financially if they need help and also ensure we are doing everything we can to prevent the spread of the virus.
“It is simply the right thing to do and I hope that other organisations will follow our lead.”
Hermes said it is at the forefront of supporting rights for the self-employed, as shown by its introduction of the Self-Employed Plus (SE+) option, which includes a number of benefits such as holiday pay and is the first of its kind in any sector.
The deal is backed by the GMB Trade Union under a partnership agreement, which saw Hermes give recognition to the GMB’s representation of its 15,000 self-employed couriers who choose to join the union.
Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “Hermes have once again taken the industry lead and shown the gig economy how things should be done.
“By setting up this fund to assist those couriers they are not just protecting people who deliver for them, they are helping to keep the British public safe.
“This is a very welcome step in the right direction, and all employers across the UK shout follow their example.”
The number of people self-isolating with the coronavirus is expected to rise and people with mild symptoms are being advised to stay at home.
Health chiefs said people diagnosed with the virus who show only “very minimal” symptoms should self-isolate at home rather than in hospital, while new advice was issued to travellers returning from anywhere in Italy that they should self-isolate if they develop symptoms.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has advised anyone self-isolating with coronavirus to stay away from family members as much as possible, and to wipe down shared surfaces.
He said: “People should try to self-isolate from their families, not only go home, try not to go out shopping, definitely don’t use public transport, but within your own home you should also try to self-isolate.”