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Plumber wins Supreme Court workers’ rights case

The Supreme Court has found in favour of a plumber in a dispute with Pimlico Plumbers over workers’ rights.

Gary Smith argued his working relationship with Pimlico Plumbers meant he should be classed as an employee rather than a subcontractor and therefore be entitled to certain employment rights.

Mr Smith, who worked at the firm for six years, wanted to reduce his working week from five days to three after suffering a heart attack in April 2011.

Pimplico Plumbers refused Mr Smith’s request and took away his branded van.

This led to him launching an unfair dismissal case against the company at an employment tribunal.

As well as unfair dismissal, he alleged that wages had been unlawfully deducted by the firm, that he had not been paid for a period of statutory annual leave, and that he was discriminated against because of his disability.

The employment tribunal found Mr Smith had not been an employee under a contract of employment, and therefore that he was not entitled to claim unfair dismissal, a decision no longer challenged by Mr Smith.

However, the tribunal also decided that he was classed as a worker under the terms of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and had been in employment according to the Working Time Regulations 1998.

This meant that Mr Smith could proceed with his claims relating to unlawful wage deduction, statutory leave and disability discrimination, but not the one relating to unfair dismissal.

Pimlico Plumbers appealed this decision, with the case eventually reaching the Supreme Court where Pimlico’s appeal was unanimously dismissed.

Responding to the court’s decision, Pimlico Plumbers chief executive Charlie Mullins warned that UK companies using self-employed contractors now faced a “tsunami of claims”.

“The shame of all this is that it is generally accepted that current employment law is not fit for purpose, and needs to be changed,” he said.

“But when it’s put to the test in our highest court there isn’t even the slightest suggestion that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

“This was a poor decision that will potentially leave thousands of companies, employing millions of contractors, wondering if one day soon they will get nasty surprise from a former contractor demanding more money, despite having been paid in full years ago. It can only lead to a tsunami of claims.

“I’m supposed to say I’m disappointed with the outcome of the appeal. In reality I am disgusted by the approach taken to this case by the highest court in the United Kingdom.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • It sounds pretty disgusting that a man who had suffered a heart attack wasn't allowed to reduce his working week by two days and simply dismissed after 6 years loyal service- under "sub-contract" terms or not

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