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Plumber wins workers' rights battle against Pimlico Plumbers

The Supreme Court has confirmed that one of Pimlico's plumbers, Mr Smith is a worker entitled to employment benefits including the right to receive paid holiday and to bring a discrimination claim.  

The dispute involving Pimlico Plumbers Ltd v Smith focuses on whether individuals who are expressly engaged as self-employed contractors are, in fact, workers.

Pimlico entered into contractual arrangements with its plumbers to provide services to its clients and the plumbers were required to use their own tools, take responsibility for their work and provide indemnity insurance.

The plumbers though gave the appearance of working for Pimlico as they wore a uniform, drove vans which displayed the Pimlico brand and customers paid Pimlico for the work undertaken. The Supreme Court found that these “tight obligations” were incompatible with Pimlico’s argument that it was a customer of Mr Smith.  This coupled with the fact that Mr Smith was required to undertake the work personally (and could not sub contract labour to another person of his choice) meant that the relationship was one of employer and worker.  

This is the end of the road for Pimlico Plumbers and this case will go back to the tribunal to examine Mr Smith’s claims in detail. 

However, it is not a game changer as the Court did not take the opportunity to provide clarity around the difficult concept of mutuality of service.  This means that cases will continue to be argued on their specific facts and, for businesses that rely on self employed contracts, that means further uncertainty for cases that are genuinely borderline.

This decision is also not necessarily a win for “gig economy” workers seeking to challenge their employment status. Pimlico’s plumbers do not operate a gig model and the implications for Uber ,City Sprint, Deliveroo etc may be limited although the publicity around this case may encourage other “self employed” contractors to challenge their legal status.

Pimlico Plumbers chief executive Charlie Mullins said he was "disgusted by the approach taken to this case by the highest court in the United Kingdom".”