Appeal court backs sacked plumber’s claim to be a worker
APPEAL judges confirmed yesterday that a former plumber who claims he was sacked after a heart attack was a worker in a case that could deal another blow against the so-called gig economy.
Pimlico Plumbers bosses tried to claim that Gary Smith, who worked for the company for six years until 2011, was self-employed, and so not entitled to the same employment rights as a “worker.”
But the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of an employment tribunal and employment appeal tribunal (EAT) that Mr Smith qualified as a worker despite his bogus self-employed status.
The EAT judge suggested the firm had devised its employment practices to avoid PAYE income tax scheme and employer’s national insurance contributions.
Pimlico Plumbers founder Charlie Mullins, a prominent Conservative Party donor who emblazoned his 200-strong fleet of vans with portraits of milk-pilfering ex-PM Margaret Thatcher on the day of her state funeral and has decorated his company website with snaps of him hobnobbing with then prime minister David Cameron at the Tories’ infamous Black and White Ball fundraiser, said there was a “good chance” of taking the case to the Supreme Court.
Mr Smith’s solicitor Jacqueline McGuigan said the court decision could affect other workers such as delivery drivers, couriers and taxi drivers.
GMB union is supporting a group of food couriers in Brighton who have given two weeks’ notice to Deliveroo and have threatened industrial action in demand of better pay and more hours.
The couriers are currently classed as “independent contractors” and are not entitled to basic employment rights such as the minimum wage, holiday or sick pay.
GMB southern regional official Paul Maloney said: “We stand with the riders against Deliveroo, another company trying to duck its obligations and responsibilities by making its workforce ‘independent contractors’.”
The union’s legal director Maria Ludkin said Mr Smith’s case is “yet another victory for the bogus self-employed who have been treated appallingly by their employer.”
She said: “All they want is basic employment rights as are enjoyed by the majority.“While these plumbers are making Charlie Mullin even more millions, he needs to get his house in order and start respecting basic workers’ rights.”
The TUC called on the government to do more to suppress the growth of the gig economy.
General secretary Frances O’Grady said after the ruling: “This case has exposed once again the growing problem of sham self-employment.
“The government must crack down on shady employment practices by beefing up the law. “But the best form of protection for working people is to join a union in your workplace.”
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