Employment status: Pimlico Plumbers case heads to Supreme Court

gig-economy
Pimlico Plumbers' managing director Charlie Mullins insists the company is not using fake self-employment practices
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The Supreme Court has granted Pimlico Plumbers permission to appeal against the Court of Appeal decision that a plumber who signed an agreement with the company describing him as self-employed was in fact a worker.

In February 2017, in Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith, the Court of Appeal ruled that the plumber was a worker under statutory provisions entitling him to rights as a worker.

Mr Smith was required under the contract to wear Pimlico’s uniform, use a van leased from Pimlico (with a GPS tracker and the company’s logo), and work a minimum number of weekly hours.

However, he could choose when he worked and which jobs he took, was required to provide his own tools and equipment, and handled his own tax and insurance.

Mr Smith brought claims in the employment tribunal that were dependent on his being a “worker”.

When Mr Smith’s case reached the Court of Appeal, it accepted that he was a worker, entitling him to some basic employment rights such as the right to be paid the national minimum wage and holiday pay.

The Court of Appeal was swayed in particular by the claimant’s requirement to provide his services personally. His agreement did not provide an express right to substitute someone else to do the work.

On Tuesday, law firm Mishcon de Reya, which represents Pimlico Plumbers, announced that the company has been granted permission to take the case to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court judgment will have important implications for so-called “gig economy” employers that claim their workers undertake services on a self-employed basis and that they effectively run their own businesses.

This is because the decision will be the highest case authority in the UK on the employment status of “gig economy” employers.

The law firm stated: “In arriving at a judgment in this case, the Supreme Court will have to wrestle with important but difficult public policy questions about the type of worker that UK employment law is supposed to protect, and the impact such protections have on UK businesses.

“The law on employment status has been somewhat confused for some time now. Working arrangements are increasingly breaking free of the traditional employer-employee relationship, largely as a result of advances in technology.

“When faced with such atypical working arrangements, the courts and tribunals have increasingly resorted to finding ‘worker’ status.

“It is hoped that the Supreme Court will offer clear guidance and go some way to clarifying the law in this area.”

Responding to the news, Pimlico Plumbers’ managing director Charlie Mullins said: “Let me be crystal clear, I completely condemn disreputable companies who are using fake self-employment to swindle workers out of pay and conditions. However, at Pimlico Plumbers we are not doing that.

“It is my determined aim to convince the Supreme Court that by using self-employed status Pimlico Plumbers is doing nothing wrong, and what’s more is both morally and legally in the right.”

No date has been set for the hearing.

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