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What now for the gig economy

The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of Gary Smith, a self-employed contractor with Pimlico Plumbers, who considered he was due worker’s rights and has now had his assertion rubber stamped by the highest court in the land.

There are no win-win outcomes following this case, in fact the status of all sides in the so-called “gig economy” is up for reinterpretation. Let’s hope that government is up to the task and is able to draft clearer instructions on this fractious area of tax law so that we can all proceed to negotiate future arrangements between companies and their self-employed contractors or employees within clear guidelines.

The court has issued a press release concerning the background to the appeal, the judgement and the reasons for the judgement. For those readers who are interested in the detail of this case the release is reproduced in part below:

BACKGROUND TO THE APPEAL

The Respondent, Mr Gary Smith, is a plumbing and heating engineer. Between August 2005 and April 2011 Mr Smith worked for the First Appellant – Pimlico Plumbers Ltd – a substantial plumbing business in London which is owned by the Second Appellant, Mr Charlie Mullins. Mr Smith had worked for the company under two written agreements (the second of which replaced the first in 2009). These agreements were drafted in quite confusing terms.

In August 2011 Mr Smith issued proceedings against the Appellants before the employment tribunal alleging that he had been unfairly dismissed, that an unlawful deduction had been made from his wages, that he had not been paid for a period of statutory annual leave and that he had been discriminated against by virtue of his disability. The employment tribunal decided that Mr Smith had not been an employee under a contract of employment, and therefore that he was not entitled to complain of unfair dismissal (a finding that Mr Smith does not now challenge), but that Mr Smith (i) was a ‘worker’ within the meaning of s.230(3) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, (ii) was a ‘worker’ within the meaning of regulation 2(1) of the Working Time Regulations 1998, and (iii) had been in ‘employment’ for the purposes of s.83(2) of the Equality Act 2010. These findings meant that Mr Smith could legitimately proceed with his latter three complaints and directions were made for their substantive consideration at a later date. The Appellants appealed this decision to an appeal tribunal and then to the Court of Appeal but were unsuccessful. They consequently appealed to the Supreme Court.

JUDGMENT

The Supreme Court unanimously dismisses the appeal. Lord Wilson gives the judgment with which Lady Hale, Lord Hughes, Lady Black and Lord Lloyd-Jones agree. The tribunal was entitled to conclude that Mr Smith qualified as a ‘worker’ under s.230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (and by analogy the relevant provisions of the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the Equality Act 2010), and his substantive claims can proceed to be heard.

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