· News

Pimlico Plumbers wins employment status tribunal

The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) has ruled to dismiss former engineer Gary Smith’s case against Pimlico Plumbers.

In 2018, Smith won a landmark legal battle against Pimlico Plumbers over his working rights. In a unanimous decision yesterday (18 March), the Supreme Court ruled that the plumbing engineer was a worker and not self-employed, however he has now been denied holiday pay he said he is owed.

Smith lost an employment tribunal against the London-based plumbing service and will therefore not receive any of the £74,000 worth of holiday pay he claimed is owed to him.

In a statement, Charlie Mullins, founder and chairman of Pimlico Plumbers, said: “Once again we have been proven to be in the right and Smith’s claims have continued to fall on deaf ears with the EAT ruling that he is in fact not owed a penny by the company.”

The ruling puts an end to a nine-year-long legal battle Mullins has been embroiled in, which has led to questions surrounding the gig economy and the welfare of self-employed contractors. 

Smith claimed he was due employment rights and holiday pay, as he received payment for jobs he did through the company.

The plumbing brand also found itself in headlines this year as it said it will be introducing a so called ‘no jab, no job’ policy as soon as possible, making vaccination a term of employment.

Martin Tiplady, CEO of Chameleon People Solutions, said he is sure there will be many employers today breathing a sigh of relief in response to the ruling. However, speaking to HR magazine, he said: “I suspect this argument is far from over and to those who think that this is the end of the road, think again.”

Tiplady said the case may be over for Pimlico Plumbers and Smith but it has shown that the distinction between workers and employees remains unclear.

“This case is far different from the Uber case, but the underlying issue is the same for there is a fag-paper distinction between the two categories in terms of treatment," he said.

In February this year, Uber lost its appeal against the Supreme Court to class its drivers as self-employed. Now classed as workers, Uber's drivers in the UK are now entitled to the National Minimum Wage, holiday pay and rest breaks.  

“Employers and HR staff would be wise to take a long and granular hard look at their contracts to make sure they sit the right side of the line,” Tiplady said.

The government must take heed, added Tiplady, and recognise the Pimlico Plumbers case has highlighted the original distinction between workers and employees is paper thin.

“Government must determine whether the original intention behind the gig economy stands up to scrutiny now and remains fit for purpose.

“Until then, employment tribunals will struggle to assess the circumstances,” he said.

What HR should know about the gig economy:

Workers and employers want better gig economy protections

Amazon workers fight 'most high-profile gig economy case'

Gig economy reforms should go further, experts say