Will plumber’s legal win f lush the gig economy down the drain?
THE future of the booming gig economy was thrown into doubt yesterday after the country’s most senior judges said a freelance plumber had the right to be treated in the same way as a full-time worker.
The ruling by five Supreme Court justices, the culmination of a seven-year legal dispute, means Gary Smith can make a claim for holiday and sick pay denied to him by Pimlico Plumbers, the company he once worked for.
It puts a fresh question mark over the status and working rights of tens of thousands of self-employed peowhich ple working for taxi and delivery firms in the so-called gig economy. Test cases involving organisations including Uber, Addison Lee and Deliveroo are going through the courts that will further challenge the model by which large numbers of people work without regular employment rights. Proponents say it offers flexibility over hours, while critics say it leaves workers open to exploitation.
Mr Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers for six years, during he was registered to pay VAT as a one-man business, paid tax as self- employed, and had the right to turn down jobs offered to him by the firm.
However, he wore a company uniform, drove a company van with a tracker and carried a company ID card.
In 2011 after suffering a heart attack he asked the firm if he could work a three-day week. He claimed he was dismissed and his van was taken away, although Pimlico Plumbers denied he was sacked because he wanted to cut his hours.
Mr Smith has won his case at every stage of the court process and will now be able to take his claim for missing pay to an employment tribunal – although the Supreme Court said that because of his self- employed status he will not be able to claim for unfair dismissal.
Supreme Court justice Lord Wilson said: ‘Although the contract did provide him with elements of operational and financial independence, Mr Smith’s services to the company’s customers were marketed through the company.
‘More importantly, its terms enabled the company to exercise tight administrative control over him during his periods of work for it; to impose fierce conditions on when and how much it paid to him, which were described at one point as his wages; and to restrict his ability to compete with it for plumbing work following any termination of their relationship.
‘ The company cannot be regarded as a client or customer of Mr Smith. The employment tribunal can proceed to examine his claims as a worker.’
Mr Smith said: ‘It feels good. It’s been an arduous battle and it’s a weight off my shoulders.’
Pimlico chief executive Charlie Mullins described the court’s decision as terrible. ‘The case is not over,’ he said. ‘I will be talking to my lawyers. We could possibly go to a European court.
‘ This decision will potentially leave thousands of companies, employing millions of contractors, wondering if one day soon they will get a nasty surprise from a former contractor demanding more money, despite having been paid in full years ago.’
‘An arduous battle’: Gary Smith yesterday