Julia Irvine 8 Aug 2017 05:11pm

Pimlico Plumbers wins right to appeal employment case

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Pimlico Plumbers’ appeal against a decision by the Appeal Court that one of its self-employed contractors was in fact an employee

Pimlico’s chief executive Charlie Mullins was determined to appeal the case brought by Gary Smith, a self-employed plumber who had worked solely for the business for six years, after the Appeal Court decided he was entitled to basic workers’ rights even though he was technically employed as an independent contractor.

“It’s wonderful that we have been granted permission to appeal our long-running and potentially ground breaking employment case to the Supreme Court,” Mullins said.

“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 which 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.”

He added that the way the case was decided could impact on thousands of companies both in and outside the building industry.

Smith was in business on his own account, was VAT-registered and paying tax on a self-employed basis. He also provided his own equipment, accepted personal liability for work he undertook and provided his own insurance cover.

However, his work and behaviour was covered by strict rules – he had to wear branded uniform and hire a branded van – and he was expected to deliver his services personally and did not have an “unfettered right” to transfer work given to him to a substitute. He was also expected to work five days a week with a minimum of 40 hours.

In 2010, Smith suffered a heart attack and asked the company if he could cut his hours from five days to three. Pimlico said no and took back the van he had hired.

Smith took the company to the Employment Tribunal, arguing that he was entitled to basic workers’ rights. The tribunal held that he was a worker within the meaning of s 230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and that his relationship with the company was one of employment under s 83(2) of the Equality Act 2010.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the decision as did the Court of Appeal.   

Speaking after the appeal ruling was announced, Pimlico’s founder Charlie Mullins said that his 125 plumbers were hired on the basis that they were self-employed and were recompensed better than other plumbers as a result.

In his statement today, Mullins said that Pimlico had paid Smith more than £500,000 over a three-year period.

“Throughout this long legal process there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation. Often the case has been reported in the media alongside claims from arguably exploited people engaged in low paid and unskilled tasks, like Uber drivers and Deliveroo food couriers.  

“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.

“My people have great conditions and command huge salaries by virtue of their skills, and if they didn’t wear my uniform, they can make almost as good a living elsewhere.  

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

He added that there was a distinction between his plumbers and the class of worker identified in the Taylor review of modern working practices as “dependent contractors” who were victims of “a morally suspect use of self employment”.

Commenting on the case, Rachel Farr of lawyers Taylor Wessing said that the Supreme Court’s judgment will be as important to mainstream businesses, many of whom use self-employed contractors, as to gig economy platforms.

“We have not yet heard how or if the government intends to implement the findings of the Taylor Review, but the Supreme Court’s decision will also be applied by UK courts in other cases,” she added.