Supreme Court hears Pimlico employment status case

Speaking ahead of last week’s landmark case the chief executive of Pimlico Plumbers, Charlie Mullins, has asked the Supreme Court to provide clarity on the employment rights of the growing number of people involved in the gig economy.

The Court is tasked with assessing whether previous tribunals have correctly decided Gary Smith, a plumber who was engaged by Pimlico from 2005 to 2011, was self-employed, as the firm claims, or a worker. Under current legislation workers are entitled to basic employment rights such as the right to be paid national minimum wage in addition to holiday and sickness pay. Self-employed individuals are not entitled to the same level of protection, therefore the court is tasked with determining his status and consequent entitlement to statutory rights.

Last year, the Court of Appeal agreed that Smith was a worker. Although he was registered to pay VAT and paid tax on a self-employed basis, the Court was heavily influenced by the fact that his agreement with Pimlico required all work to be personally completed by him, meaning he was unable to substitute someone else to work in his place which is a key element of self-employment. It also took into consideration Pimlico’s control of his working hours, and control in other respects – such as Smith being subject to post-termination restrictive covenants.

Pimlico maintains the stance that its plumbers are self-employed, citing previous advice they have received from HMRC on this matter. Mullins has stressed the difference between the firm’s engineers, which he describes as “highly-skilled individuals”, and those in other gig economy industries. He also argues Smith was happy to benefit from his self-employed status for a large duration of his employment, before then attempting to avail himself of employment rights as his health deteriorated.

Naturally the case has caught the attention of the large number of people involved in the UK gig economy, which currently stands at an estimated 1.3 million. The decision of the Supreme Court will set a precedent for how tribunals should examine the law on any current and future gig-economy disputes, as individuals and organisations seek greater clarity on the law surrounding this method of flexible working. Whilst the government’s recent Taylor Review sought to clarify the current employment landscape, the decision of this case is set to have similarly important implications on the future of the gig economy.

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