The Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that a plumber who claims he was sacked following a heart attack, was a ‘worker’ and thus entitled to some work-related rights, according to the decision in Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith.
The judgment has important implications for so-called ‘gig economy’ companies that claim their workers undertake services on a self-employed basis and so have no employment rights.
Gary Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers from 2005 until 2011. The agreement between the company and Mr Smith described him as a “self-employed operative”.
The wording of the contract suggested that he was in business on his own account, providing a service to Pimlico Plumbers.
Smith was required to wear Pimlico’s uniform displaying their logo, 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.
There was no express term in the agreement allowing Mr Smith to send someone else to do the work.
Pimlico Plumbers did not guarantee to provide Mr Smith with a minimum number of hours. Following the termination of this arrangement, Mr Smith brought claims for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.
The employment tribunal found that he could not claim unfair dismissal because he was not an employee.
However, the tribunal decided that he could claim disability discrimination as a ‘worker.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) agreed with the employment tribunal, and the Court of Appeal has now dismissed Pimlico Plumbers’ appeal.
Unlike recent high-profile judgments involving Uber drivers and CitySprint couriers, this ruling is binding on other courts and tribunals.
Pimlico Plumbers boss and prominent Tory donor Charlie Mullins, decorated his fleet of vans with pictures of Margaret Thatcher on the day of her state funeral. He says there is a “good chance” he will take the case to the Supreme Court, but so far he’s lost every round of the legal fight.
The Appeal Court decision is likely to be a key authority in any forthcoming cases on employment status in the gig economy. However, it is important to note that this decision did not find that the plumber was an employee of Pimlico Plumbers.
People categorised as workers have a right to minimum wage and to paid annual leave, along with some other procedural rights, such as a right to be accompanied at any form of disciplinary meeting, but they do not enjoy the full range of protections given to employees and are not subject to the PAYE system applicable to employees.
Frances O’Grady of the TUC said: “This case has exposed once again the growing problem of sham self-employment.
“Unscrupulous bosses falsely claim their workers are self-employed to get out of paying the minimum wage and providing basics like paid holidays and rest breaks.
“But the best form of protection for working people is to join a union in your workplace.”
The GMB is currently supporting a group of Deliveroo food couriers in Brighton currently classed as ‘independent contractors’, who have given two weeks notice of industrial action for better pay and more hours.
The GMB’s Paul Maloney said: “We stand with the riders against Deliveroo, another company trying to duck its obligastions and responsibilities by making its workforce ‘independent contractors’.”
The government has only now, after more than a year’s delay, released a report warning that “unscrupulous” employers were in a position to exploit low-paid and low-skilled workers.
Other gig economy cases
Uber is appealing against the high-profile employment tribunal decision that the drivers who brought the claim are workers rather than self-employed.
A similar finding when the Uber case goes to the EAT would be bad news for the company, as it could lead to it having to radically overhaul its contractual arrangements with its drivers.
In another recent case about employment status in the gig economy, the employment tribunal found that a CitySprint courier is a worker rather than self-employed.
In both cases, the employment tribunals were highly critical of the contracts that the workers were asked to sign.
The employment tribunals saw the contracts as drafted in a deliberately complex manner to mask the true nature of the working arrangements.
There are also a number of other forthcoming legal challenges against courier companies including Hermes, Addison Lee, Excel and eCourier.
- For more details of the GMB’s Brighton Deliveroo campaign, contact Paul Maloney on 07801 343 839 or Michelle Gordon on 07866 369 259