Supreme Court to hear Pimlico Plumbers self employment case

Pimlico Plumbers has been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court over the decision of the Court of Appeal, which ruled that one of the company’s former self-employed plumbers was entitled to employment rights

The case, which has been running for more than six years, was heard by the Court of Appeal in February.

It concerned Gary Smith, who was working on a self-employed contract at Pimlico Plumbers between 25 August 2005 and 28 April 2011, and who claimed at an employment tribunal he was unfairly or wrongfully dismissed when he requested a switch to part time working following a heart attack.

Subsequent legal argument focused on whether Smith was self-employed or a ‘worker’, as this had an impact on his ability to bring a case to the tribunal. He was found to be entitled to basic workers' rights although he was technically self-employed. These include the national minimum wage and paid holiday and the ability to bring discrimination claims.

Pimlico Plumbers went to the Court of Appeal to argue the employment tribunal had erred in law over the issue of whether Smith was under an obligation personally to perform the jobs he contracted to carry out, and had failed to consider whether the relevant contract under which Smith was a ‘worker’ was one single contract or a series of successive separate contracts.

However, the Court of Appeal upheld the view of the employment tribunal, stating: ‘Having rejected Pimlico Plumbing’s case that Mr Smith had an unfettered right of substitution and did not have to do the work personally, and having found that Mr Smith was contractually obliged to do a minimum number of hours work a week, the ET concluded and was entitled to conclude in paragraph 52 of its decision, that the degree of control exercised by Pimlico Plumbing over Mr Smith by virtue of the 2009 agreement was also inconsistent with Pimlico Plumbing being a customer or client of a business run by Mr Smith.’

Now the case, which has generated considerable interest because of the rise of new business models of employment, has been referred to the Supreme Court. 

Charlie Mullins, CEO of Pimlico Plumbers, said: ‘It’s wonderful that we have been granted permission to appeal our long-running and potentially ground breaking employment case to the Supreme Court.

‘I have always maintained that Mr Smith was a self-employed contractor, and to my mind the evidence overwhelmingly supports our position. 

‘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. 

‘It is my determined aim to convince the Supreme Court that by using self-employed status, Pimlico Plumbers is doing nothing wrong, and what's more is both morally and legally in the right.

‘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.’

Mullins claimed there has been what he called ‘a lot of confusion and misinformation’ about the issues involved, and said there was ‘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, referencing recent legal argument over the employment status of Uber drivers and Deliveroo personnel.

Mullins said: ‘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.

‘My people, with their heavily in demand, readily transferable skills, are in no way dependent on anyone or any company.’

The Court of Appeal judgement is here.

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