Gary Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers for 6 years until 2011. He was VAT registered and paying tax on a self-employed basis but worked exclusively for Pimlico Plumbers during that time, with a branded van which he hired. In 2010, after suffering a heart-attack, Mr Smith wanted to reduce the number of days he worked from 5 to 3, but the firm refused and he claims he was dismissed, with his van being taken away from him.
At the original tribunal Mr Smith’s case claimed that he should be entitled to workers’ rights which include holiday and sick pay. Pimlico Plumbers founder Charlie Mullins said that the plumbers were hired on the basis that they were self-employed and earned significantly more than those who would have been employed directly by the firm.
The tribunal found that although the plumbers were not employees, they were workers and therefore entitled to basic workers’ rights. They were tightly controlled by the firm and were unable to work for anyone else. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision on 10th February 2017, a ruling which may have significant implications for other self-employed workers who have had similar disputes. Mr Mullins is considering taking the case to the Supreme Court.
The judgment follows similar rulings against Uber, the ride-hailing company and CitySprint bike couriers, where freelance employees successfully took actions to secure full workers’ rights. Despite these victories, Appeal Court Judge Lord Justice Underhill sounded a note of caution after the decision saying “Although employment lawyers will inevitably be interested in this case – the question of when a relationship is genuinely casual being a very live one at present – they should be careful about trying to draw any very general conclusions from it.”
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