Will plum­ber’s le­gal win f lush the gig econ­omy down the drain?

Daily Mail - - News - By Steve Doughty So­cial Af­fairs Correspondent

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

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