Another possible nail in the coffin of the so-called ‘gig economy’ was delivered this month, when the Supreme Court backed a plumber in the case against his former employer.
The involvement of the Supreme Court in the much-publicised Pimlico Plumbers employment battle came as a result of a previous ruling by an Employment Tribunal, which the plumbing firm was appealing.
The case concerned Gary Smith, who, between 2005 and 2011, had worked as an ‘independent contractor’ for Pimlico Plumbers. It was the employment status of ‘independent contractor’ that was in dispute, and the original tribunal heard that Mr Smith had been classed as ‘self-employed’ despite the expectation for him to fulfil a minimum of 40 hours per week, lease a company van and wear one of Pimlico’s branded uniforms.
Because of his status, Mr Smith had been denied access to employment rights such as holiday and sick pay.
Due to the specifics of the arrangement under which Mr Smith worked, the tribunal ruled that he should not have been classed as a self-employed ‘independent contractor’, but as a ‘worker’. As such, he should have benefitted from the employment rights he was legally entitled to.
The Supreme Court upheld this ruling, despite the company’s chief executive, Charlie Mullins, claiming that Mr Smith enjoyed some of the freedoms other self-employed contractors did, such as the ability to nominate someone else to do the work. These arguments, however, were dismissed.
The General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, welcomed the decision, saying the case had shone a light on “how widely sham self-employment had spread”.
Samantha Randall, a Solicitor and employment law expert, said: “At present, the ‘burden of proof’ on demonstrating employment status lies with the individual. This means it is up to them to prove in a court of law they are not self-employed and should have access to the employment rights all workers are entitled to.
“This ‘burden of proof’ needs to shift onto the employer, which would allow the individual their rights, unless it could be proven they were genuinely self-employed.”