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Landmark workers’ rights case ‘won’t spell end for gig economy’

Former Pimlico Plumbers employee Gary Smith leaves the UK Supreme Court following the ruling in the case involving plumbers contracts, which is said will have 'huge ramifications' for the gig economy Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Former Pimlico Plumbers employee Gary Smith leaves the UK Supreme Court following the ruling in the case involving plumbers contracts, which is said will have 'huge ramifications' for the gig economy Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

The death of the gig economy has been exaggerated despite a landmark ruling over worker status, an employment expert has said.

The Supreme Court has granted plumber Gary Smith worker status despite his contract with Pimlico Plumbers describing him as self-employed, in a decision which has been described as a blow for the gig economy.

It means he was entitled to holiday and sickness pay as well as protection from disability discrimination.

However, solicitor Carla Gowing, of Norwich law firm Hatch Brenner, said the decision was only liable to impact specific cases with similar details.

She said: “There has been a lot of speculation saying that it is going to open the floodgates but I don’t think it will as it is a very specific case.

“What it does mean is that companies need to look closely at the contracting relationship with people they engage on a self-employed basis – not just at what the contract says but also the reality of the relationship they have.”

Miss Gowing said businesses would have to look at the contractors’ rights to determine if they were to be treated as workers, with rules concerning who was liable for risk and the right to send a substitute worker if they were unable to complete the task.

In Mr Smith’s case Pimlico retained the right to send another plumber from their roster if he was unable to carry out work, required him to wear a uniform and drive a branded vehicle – which was judged enough to make him a worker.

Announcing the decision, Lord Wilson said an employment tribunal was “entitled to conclude” the firm could not be regarded as having been a “client or customer” of Mr Smith.

The judge said: “Although the contract did provide him with elements of operational and financial independence, Mr Smith’s services to the company’s customers were marketed through the company.”

He said the terms enabled Pimlico to exercise “tight administrative control”, impose “fierce conditions” on when and how much it paid him and restricted his ability to compete with it for plumbing work after he terminated their relationship.

The case is one of several regarding worker status which has gone through the courts recently with lift-hailing app Uber losing out in a ruling last year.

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