Court backs plumber in reduced hours row - 3rd March 2017

Among all the continued furore over Brexit, Trump and Danny Dyer’s break from EastEnders, it’s highly likely that a court case involving a plumber’s legal battle for working rights may have passed you by.

Gary Smith wanted to reduce his working days at Pimlico Plumbers following a heart attack and the Court of Appeal agreed with a tribunal that said he was entitled to basic workers’ rights, although he was technically self-employed.

This decision is the latest to come down on the side of workers in a flexible workforce and will be closely examined by others with similar disputes, many of whom work in the so-called “gig” economy.

The case is about the distinction between Mr Smith’s status as either a self-employed contractor or a worker for the company. He was VAT registered and paying tax on a self-employed basis, but worked solely for Pimlico Plumbers for six years.

After he suffered a heart attack in 2010, Mr Smith wanted to reduce the five-day week to three. However, the firm refused and took away his branded van, which he had hired.

Mr Smith claims he was dismissed and argued that he was entitled to basic workers’ rights - including the national minimum wage, paid holiday and the ability to bring discrimination claims.

A previous employment tribunal found that the plumbers were workers - but not employees. The Court of Appeal has agreed with that decision, dismissing Pimlico Plumbers’ appeal.

Charlie Mullins, the founder of Pimlico Plumbers, welcomed the clarity offered by the courts and said that he had already changed contracts with those who worked on a self-employed basis. He added that it was likely that he would take the case to the Supreme Court.

The government has commissioned four experts to look into the issue of workers’ rights in the “gig” economy and their review will address questions of job security, pension, holiday and parental leave rights. It is also looking at “employer freedoms and obligations”.

Mr Mullins said that “Like our plumbing, now our contracts are watertight,” and this case can only serve as a warning to business owners that it always pays to stay on the right side of the law.

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