A recent ruling saw a plumber win a case being regarded as the greatest victory yet in a gig economy tribunal hearing.
Gary Smith was a self-employed worker for London firm Pimlico Plumbers for six years until 2011 when he took the firm to tribunal to challenge his status as a self-employed worker. He won that case in 2014, but an appeal by Pimlico saw him back in court this year, and once again he emerged victorious.
This is a significant ruling as it’s the first appeal to be undertaken by a business of the gig economy against a worker challenging their self-employed status. The loss does not bode well for other gig economy companies facing similar appeals.
Mr Smith’s case was based around challenging legislation that classes him as either a self-employed contractor or a full worker of Pimlico Plumbers. Although Smith was VAT-registered and paying tax in accordance with self-employed regulations, he did not work for any other business throughout the six years he spent at Pimlico.
When Mr Smith suffered a heart attack in 2010 he wanted to reduce his working hours from a five days a week to three. The firm flatly refused, and he claims to have been dismissed shortly afterwards. Mr Smith insists he was ‘tightly controlled’ by Pimlico Plumbers, which made it difficult for him to find additional employment.
Pimlico Plumbers founder, Charlie Mullins, says workers were hired on a self-employed basis for which they needed to provide their own materials for work. They were played a generous fee of £80,000 for doing so.
The business is one of the most highly regarded plumbing companies in the UK, with an estimated value of around £75 million; an amount amassed since Mr Mullins, a prominent Tory Party donor, founded the firm 45 years ago.
Mr Mullins spoke of his gratitude that the ruling offers legal clarity for this area of gig economy work, which his firm can now abide by: “Like our plumbing, now our contracts are watertight,” he remarked.
Businesses such as Uber, Deliveroo and City Sprint have been at the centre of several highly-publicised cases involving the gig economy that were brought about by employees who feel their workplace contribution, and the expectation placed on them, does not warrant the responsibility of a self-employed worker, but rather reflects the status of a fully employed member of staff.
As a result of recent rulings, Uber can no longer class its drivers as self-employed, Deliveroo must pay all workers a minimum wage regardless of employment status, and courier firm City Sprint has to give workers the same holiday pay as full employees.
Lord Justice Underhill, a Court of Appeal Judge at the Pimlico ruling, cautioned against employment professionals regarding the Pimlico Plumbers case as a blueprint to dictate the law for other cases of the gig economy: “They should be careful about trying to draw any very general conclusions from it” he said.
In order to assist with the clarification of rights for self-employed workers of the gig economy, government officials have commissioned a team of experts to review workplace expectations.
This investigation will be led by Mathew Taylor, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Arts.
Issues for analysis will include pay relating to holiday, sick leave, maternity leave, pension laws and job security. The findings are due for publication later this year.