Supreme Court rules plumber in gig economy entitled to worker rights


LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a plumber hired on a self-employed basis was entitled to workers’ rights, in a case which could further pressure firms in the gig economy to change their business models.

FILE PHOTO: A worker walks past a Pimlico Plumbers van in London, Britain February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

Britain’s top judges considered the case of Gary Smith who worked for the firm Pimlico Plumbers between 2005 and 2011 where he was self-employed, entitling him to only basic protections such as health and safety.

Smith first took the case to an employment tribunal in 2011 where a judge said the firm imposed restrictions on the work he could do and that he was obliged to perform a certain number of minimum hours on agreed days, meaning he was a worker, a verdict which the company later appealed.

Workers receive the minimum wage, holiday pay and rest breaks, prompting unions to take legal action to end what they say are exploitative practices in the gig economy, where people tend to work for several firms without fixed contracts.

A member of security stands guard inside the Supreme Court in London, Britain, January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

On Wednesday, Supreme Court judges agreed with the tribunal’s decision. “Mr Smith wins the case,” said judge Nicholas Wilson.

The Supreme Court decision will not automatically apply to others who work in the gig economy as it focuses on the specific circumstances of the case but it may be used by regulators and unions to push for more entitlements and pressure other firms.

Taxi app Uber, car service Addison Lee and takeaway food courier Deliveroo are among those who treat their drivers as self-employed and are involved in separate legal disputes.

Reporting by Costas Pitas, editing by Estelle Shirbon

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