Pimlico Plumbers case and the gig economy

February 11, 2017 at 3:23 pm (campaigning, Jim D, law, solidarity, Tory scum, unions, workers)

Image result for picture charlie mullins pimlico plumbers
Above: boss Charlie Mullins in characteristic pose

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

11 Comments

  1. Dave said,

    Thanks for this post.

  2. Glasgow Working Class said,

    If the man served in any capacity for this plumbing outfit and the outfit made some profit from his Labour then surely he must have been an employee regardless of term’s.

    • Mick said,

      I have no quarrel with gig economies or the zero hours contracts which leftists complain about. As David Cameron said, different options suit different people.

      I just think there should be more comprehensive information out there, so people joining these schemes know exactly what’s good and what’s bad in one easy fact sheet. Then you wouldn’t have cases like this, where people are or feel exploited.

    • Dave said,

      Whether or not you are considered an employee is based on employment law not Marx’s friggin theory of surplus value.

  3. Petite Borgewire said,

    I think this Pimlic Plumbers case is quite different from the others. Their plumbers were not low paid and were self employed to avoid higher rates of tax, national insurance, etc, and were probably better off this way as the company claimed that they were paid a much higher rate than if they were directly employed (except, perhaps when they became ill and were dismissed). Whether it’s legal or not is debatable as can be seen by the court’s decision not to rule that the plumber was an employee.

    More worrying are the other cases like Uber and delivery companies where there’s a claim their workers are self employed, so avoiding the minimum wage as well as PAYE taxes, national insurance, leaving their workers earning a very low and uncertain amount.

    • Mick said,

      Indeed. And where there are niggly points, the courts can clear them up because that’s what the M’Luds are for.

      A lot of the time there are indeed strong grounds for employment reform but in other cases, leftists just use them as vehicles to bash ‘Tory scum’. Yeah, we already got that point when we saw it daubed on war memorials, cars and walls.

      And if it’s worth mentioning that Charlie Mullins paid dedication to the woman who helped his free enterprise, it’s certainly more of a noble act than the even more rioting which we saw from people in the Left on the day of her death. Or the effigies or party packs sold at NUT conference. Again, they cheapen their own messages.

      • Glasgow Working Class said,

        Mick, I agree with most you say however employment law the minimum wage etc should be specific and no intervention from the M’Luds required. The M’Luds seem to be perpectual in the law as if they made it that way to keep them on the minimum wage!

      • Mick said,

        It’s part and parcel of lawmaking that the Lords can be called upon to judge on finer points of the laws they themselves had a hand in passing. You seem to be implying that it’s some kind of interference that are only doing what the jobs they exist to carry out.

        I certainly wouldn’t want an abolished Lords, even though it is a majority Labour and Liberal pleasure palace at the moment. And even though Brexit can still be dashed on the rocks there.

  4. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Mick, I am implying that employment law does not need to be complicated as should the minimum wage… I have no problem with judges but I would abolish the Lords. It is a gravy train for the redundant political elites.

    • Mick said,

      I concede that last point but it really need not be. Reform can deal with that, perhaps.

      • Glasgow Working Class said,

        Mick I live in Scotland and cannot go doon Westminster sign in and collect my dole money then stand gossiping at the members bar.
        I would love tae dae that.

        There are around 800 Peers now. I think they are taking the pish and hard working people’s tax returns.

        A second chamber is needed to scrutinise and I suggest should be elected from a bunch of veteran politicians and industry. And that includes cleaners that scrub the NHS shithouses.

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