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Supreme Court rules on the Gig Economy

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The long-awaited decision of the Supreme Court has been delivered in the Pimlico Plumbers case, following the hearing back in February 2018. Although the decision is very much focussed on the facts of this case, the decision may well be seen by top employment solicitors as another significant nail in the coffin of the ‘gig economy’ as it currently operates. It may also be seen as a signal for those already engaged in litigation relating to workers’ rights such as Uber and Deliveroo.
Pimlico Plumbers – the facts
The facts are fairly well known. Gary Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers. There was some confusion arising over the contractual position of Mr Smith, but Pimlico Plumbers maintained that he was self-employed. Mr Smith launched Employment Tribunal proceedings against the organisation for unfair dismissal in connection when he was refused permission to change his working pattern in response to a heart condition.
The Court proceedings
Every stage of the Employment Tribunal and subsequent appellate courts have now found that Mr Smith was a ‘worker’ (although not an employee) and entitled to workers’ rights. In this latest, and final chapter of the legal proceedings, the Supreme Court has come to the same conclusion as the courts below. In particular, the Supreme Court thought it was fatal to Pimlico Plumbers’ arguments that:
- Mr Smith did not have complete the freedom to substitute another plumber
- Pimlico Plumbers controlled his uniform and administrative duties
- Pimlico Plumbers controlled how much, and when, Mr Smith was paid
Mr Smith could swap a shift with another Pimlico Plumber. He could reject work when it was offered to him, and did bear some financial risk, but this was not enough to establish self-Employment in the face of the other factors that supported an argument that he was a worker.
What can we take from the Supreme Court decision?
The decision of the Supreme Court focusses on the facts as they apply in this case, and don’t expand or elaborate hugely on the definition of a ‘worker’ or what ‘self-employed’ means. The decision does confirm that the correct approach is to examine the reality of the situation. Whether the next round of litigation in some of the other gig economy cases deliver similar conclusions will depend on the facts in those cases – as Employment claim solicitors we will be keeping a close watch!
For advice on any aspect of employment law, please call 0203 959 9123 to book an appointment. OTS Solicitors can advise employers and employees. We pride ourselves on taking an intelligent and practical approach to employment law, and on delivering results for our clients.

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