Plumber wins Supreme Court workers' rights battle against Pimlico Plumbers

Plumber Gary Smith has won a Supreme Court legal battle against Pimlico Plumbers over his employment rights.
The five Supreme Court judges, who heard the appeal in February, found in favour of Mr Smith’s claim that he should be entitled to worker’s rights including holiday and sick pay.
Smith worked solely for the London-based firm between 25 August 2005 and 28 April 2011 and during that time he paid tax like he was self-employed, and was VAT registered.
After suffering a heart attack in January 2011, Smith wanted to reduce his working week from five days to three but was refused. He claimed that as he only did work for Pimlico Plumbers, he should be classed as a “worker”, and be entitled to more rights than if he were working on a totally freelance basis.
Pimlico Plumbers argued that Smith (and other plumbers) were self-employed, and were paid “significantly more” than if they had been on the books, but therefore didn’t have workers’ benefits.
In February 2017, the Court of Appeal sided with Smith, so the case was escalated to the Supreme Court, which again sided with the worker.
The ‘worker’ status has to date been appealed by Pimlico Plumbers in the Employment Appeals Tribunal, The Court of Appeal, and The UK Supreme Court.
The result will interest employees for other “gig economy” firms, like Deliveroo and Uber.
Commenting on the case, Charlie Mullins, CEO and founder of Pimlico Plumbers has warned that UK companies using self-employed contractors face a ‘tsunami of claims’ after his company lost an appeal at the Supreme Court.
“For those who think this is a victory for poorly paid workers everywhere, against large corporations who exploit their lack of bargaining power, think again.
“In fact, this was exploitation, but instead by a highly-paid, highly-skilled man who used a loophole in current employment law to set himself up for a double pay-day.
“The shame of all this is that it is generally accepted that current employment law is not fit for purpose, and needs to be changed.  But when it’s put to the test in our highest court there isn’t even the slightest suggestion that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
“This was a poor decision that will potentially leave thousands of companies, employing millions of contractors, wondering if one day soon they will get nasty surprise from a former contractor demanding more money, despite having been paid in full years ago.  It can only lead to a tsunami of claims.”
However, the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said the case is a warning to “bad” employers:
“This case has exposed how widely sham self-employment has spread. Bad employers are using every trick in the book to deny staff basic rights.
“It’s time to end the Wild West in the gig economy. The government must get tough on rogue bosses and give unions the right to organise in more workplaces.
“People shouldn’t have to go to court to get a fair deal at work. Companies that treat their staff like disposable labour must be brought to book.”
Phil Pepper, employment partner at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, said:
“The Supreme Court’s decision will no doubt have dealt a heavy blow to Pimlico Plumbers. It acts as a stark reminder for organisations who use self-employed contractors to ensure that any agreements are worded correctly – in the physical sense, as well as in practice.  The right of substitution was a significant reason why the Supreme Court was unable to find that Mr Smith was genuinely self-employed.  Pimlico Plumbers had a very restricted approach to this right which ultimately worked against them.
“Immediate changes must be made to accommodate this decision, otherwise Pimlico Plumbers and other organisations could face numerous legal challenges. These may prove to be costly, both financially and reputationally.
“This may be good news for workers, but the onus is now on organisations across the board to ensure they are squeaky clean in the way they choose to structure their employment models.”
“This case will no doubt have an impact on both the Uber and CitySprint cases which are due to be heard by the Court of Appeal and Employment Appeal Tribunal respectively, later this year. Although the legal arguments in those cases may vary slightly, the fundamental principles arising from the Pimlico Plumbers case will at the very least influence the outcome of those decisions.”

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