Worker wins rights battle against Pimlico Plumbers at the Supreme Court

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The UK's highest court has dealt a blow to the so-called gig economy in a landmark ruling over the employment status of a plumber.

Gary Smith, who worked for Pimlico Plumbers for nearly six years from 2005, previously won a number of court rulings which determined he could claim "worker" status, even though he was described in his contract as a "self-employed operative".

Those were upheld unanimously by five Supreme Court justices, who rejected an appeal by Pimlico Plumbers.

Judge Lord Wilson said: "Although the contract did provide him with elements of operational and financial independence, Mr Smith's services to the company's customers were marketed through the company.

"More importantly, its terms enabled the company to exercise tight administrative control over him during his periods of work; to impose fierce conditions on when and how much it paid to him, which were described at one point as his wages; and to restrict his ability to compete with it for plumbing work following any termination of their relationship."

Listen to Pimlico Plumbers' Charlie Mullins talking to Eamonn Holmes

The ruling is likely to have a major impact on the sort of flexible working arrangements which have been on the increase in recent years and could affect a number of other cases currently progressing through the courts.

Mr Smith, a plumbing and heating engineer, was one of 125 contractors Pimlico Plumbers could call on to carry out jobs for its customers and had a company uniform and van which he rented.

He claimed that, after suffering a heart attack in 2011 and trying to reduce his hours, he was unfairly dismissed and the tribunal made a preliminary finding that he was a "worker" within the meaning of the 1996 Employment Rights Act.

That decision was upheld by the Employment Appeal Tribunal and again by the Court of Appeal in January last year.

As a "worker", he is entitled to employment rights including holiday and sick pay, and he will now be able to go ahead with his employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal.

Pimlico Plumbers chief executive Charlie Mullins attacked the court's ruling as "disgraceful".

"It was a terrible decision," he said. "They had an opportunity to rectify our out-of-date employment rights and they bottled it.

"The case is not over. I will be talking to my lawyers about where we go from here... the Government must now clarify the law."

Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said: "This is a landmark victory for workers who have had enough of precarious conditions.

"Pimlico Plumbers and companies like it must put an immediate end to exploitative practices and ensure that their workers have full access to their legal rights, such as the minimum wage and sick pay.

"The next Labour government will ensure that all workers have equal rights from day one."