UK top court makes landmark ruling on ‘gig economy’ plumber

Plumbing and heating engineer, Gary Smith leaves the Supreme Court in London on June 13, 2018, following the court ruling that he was entitled to workers’ rights. — AFP pic
Plumbing and heating engineer, Gary Smith leaves the Supreme Court in London on June 13, 2018, following the court ruling that he was entitled to workers’ rights. — AFP pic

LONDON, June 13 — Britain’s Supreme Court today ruled that a plumber employed in the so-called gig economy had “worker” status in a landmark case that could have major implications for the booming sector.

The country’s highest court decided unanimously that Gary Smith was a “worker” for Pimlico Plumbers for nearly six years from 2005, even though his contract described him as a “self-employed operative”.

“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,” said Judge Nicholas Wilson, in rejecting the appeal by Pimlico Plumbers.

The ruling allows Smith to pursue a claim of unfair dismissal after he suffered a heart attack, and opens up the whole gig economy to claims by those on flexible contracts that they should also receive benefits afforded to those with worker status, including annual leave.

The case follows a similar ruling in November, when an employment tribunal said that drivers for US ride-hailing company Uber were workers, not self-employed.

Uber is appealing the ruling, with the case now likely to go to the Court of Appeal.

Smith argues that he was unfairly dismissed after trying to reduce his hours following a 2011 heart attack, but Pimlico Plumbers responded that he was self-employed, therefore had no right to make a claim.

A lower court earlier ruled that Smith was a worker because he was required to use the firm’s van and was obliged to do a minimum number of hours a week, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court.

Pimlico Plumbers chief executive Charlie Mullins called the decision “terrible”.

“They had an opportunity to rectify our out-of-date employment rights and they bottled it,” he said outside court.

“The case is not over. I will be talking to my lawyers about where we go from here. It was a terrible decision.” — AFP

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