Business and Finance

Key gig economy case reaches Supreme Court

UK Supreme Court is hearing key gig economy case. Image: Gareth Williams CC BY 2.0

The Supreme Court this week is hearing what could become a landmark case for the rights of workers in the gig economy.

On Tuesday the country’s highest court began an appeal brought by Pimlico Plumbers, following a decision in the Court of Appeal in February against the company.

The Supreme Court is to rule on whether Gary Smith, who worked for Pimlico Plumbers for five years until 2010, was a worker of the company or self-employed.

Mr Smith had been registered to pay VAT and tax on the basis of being self-employed.

However, Pimlico Plumbers was his sole employer.

He was contractually obliged to do a minimum number of hours a week and he rented their branded van.

In his last year of working for the company Mr Smith sought to work three days a week rather than five, following a heart attack.

When Pimlico Plumbers refused his request, Mr Smith took the company to an employment tribunal, with the lower court ruling that he was indeed a worker.

The Supreme Court’s judgment is expected in a few weeks.

Pimlico Plumbers’ chief executive  has said the decision would have “huge ramifications” for employment rights for a number of industries including healthcare and the media.

The case follows several other legal challenges made within the so-called gig economy, including claims against Deliveroo and Uber.

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In December last year, Uber’s request to appeal a workers’ rights decision directly to the Supreme Court was rejected.

This meant that Uber would have to appeal the decision, seen by many as a victory for the workers’ rights, at the Court of Appeal first.

The General Secretary of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), Jason Moyer-Lee said the case was ‘another blow to Uber’s legal strategy behind denying workers their rights.’



However, in November of last year the IWGB lost a case against Deliveroo, when the food delivery company riders were ruled as self-employed by labour law body the Central Arbitration Committee.

The ruling meant that Deliveroo does not have to give riders minimum wage or holiday pay.

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Earlier this month Theresa May announced that the Government would improve conditions for millions of workers in the gig economy.

The Prime Minister’s promise was made in response to a review of Britain’s changing labour market and how workers’ rights could be better protected.

The Taylor Review made 53 recommendations, with Ms May confirming the Government will act on all but one of the suggestions.

These include an entitlement to holiday and sick pay, right to a payslip and the right to request a more stable contract.

Furthermore, the Government will consult with the Low Pay Commission to consider a higher minimum wage for zero-hour contract workers. Ms May said:

We recognise the world of work is changing and we have to make sure we have the right structures in place to reflect those changes, enhancing the UK’s position as one of the best places in the world to do business.

We are proud to have record levels of employment in this country, but we must also ensure that workers’ rights are always upheld.

The IWGB argued that the Government’s response to the review did not go far enough.

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, agreed noting that:

These plans won’t stop the hire and fire culture of zero-hours contracts or sham self-employment, and they will still leave 1.8 million workers excluded from key protections.

Research released by the government this month found that 700,000 people, a quarter of those working in the gig-economy, were paid below national minimum wage.


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