Pimlico Plumbers to take employment case appeal to Supreme Court

Pimlico Plumbers have won the right to appeal to the Supreme Court over an employment case.

The case centres around the employment status of Gary Smith, a plumber who worked on a self-employment contract exclusively for Pimlico Plumbers for six years between 2005 – 2011.

After suffering a heart attack Smith requested to reduce his working hours from five a day to three, which was denied, and Smith was subsequently dismissed. The case is underpinned by the question of whether this dismissal was unfair or wrongful, and whether Smith should be afforded some employee rights.

An employment tribunal’s ruling, which the Court of Appeal upheld, said that Smith was entitled to basic workers’ rights under s 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 s 83(2) of the Equality Act 2010.

Smith classed himself as self-employed for tax purposes and provided his own equipment, insurance and had personal liability for work undertaken. However, the court made its decision based upon Smith’s perceived lack of control, as he was contractually obliged to do a minimum number of hours work a week and did not have the right to transfer his work to a subordinate.

This case is of particular significance following the findings of the Taylor Review, the government commissioned review looking into modern employment practices. Much of the review revolved around the emergent challenges posed by the gig economy, and to address this the review suggested creating a third employment category of “dependent contractor”, which would afford gig economy workers some of the rights and protections that come with being an employee.

Charlie Mullins, CEO of Pimlico Plumbers, was quick to distinguish this case from the Taylor Review and gig economy workers.He said: “Let me be crystal clear, I completely condemn disreputable companies who are using fake self-employment to swindle workers out of pay and conditions, however at Pimlico Plumbers we are not doing that. “

“There is, in reality, no comparison between a skilled trades person, like a plumber earning £150,000 a year, and a bike courier or mini-cab driver, struggling to make minimum wage.”

“There are exploited workers and there are Pimlico Plumbers and the two quite literally live in different worlds; the later have big houses, expensive cars, great holidays and can send their children to the best schools.”

“This is the distinction that we are hoping to make clear to the Supreme Court.  And to that end I was extremely buoyed by Matthew Taylor’s Review of Modern Working Practices, which identified a class of worker it called ‘Dependent Contractors’, who it felt were the true victims of a morally suspect use of self-employment.”

This case has the potential to be precedent setting in defining some of the grey area surrounding employment rights for contractors. On this, Mullins said: “The ramifications of this case will impact upon many thousands of companies in the building industry and beyond and potentially affect the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of UK workers.  I am needless to say incredibly grateful that the Supreme Court has agreed to look again at the case.”

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