A British Plumber May Show Uber the Future of Employment
The U.K.’s top judges ruled that Pimlico Plumbers Ltd. should’ve treated one of its tradesmen as a “worker,” giving him the right to vacation pay and to sue the company in a decision that could have ramifications for other gig economy lawsuits.
Supreme Court judges found that plumber Gary Smith, who worked for London-based Pimlico Plumbers between August 2005 and April 2011, wasn’t self-employed or a client of the firm and could, therefore, sue the company under discrimination laws. Pimlico and its chief executive officer, Charlie Mullins, lost at two lower courts.
“Although the contract did provide him with elements of operational and financial independence, Mr Smith’s services to the company’s customers were marketed through the company,” Judge Nicholas Wilson said in a summary of the case.
Uber and other app-based firms will be watching the ruling with interest as they face similar legal challenges over the way they treat employees. Uber’s appeal of a decision granting its drivers benefits including overtime and paid vacation is scheduled to be heard by another court October 30.
Meanwhile, Deliveroo, the food-delivery service, is currently battling with the IWGB union over its riders’ employment status and in May, taxi service Addison Lee lost an appeal over whether drivers were independent contractors or employees with rights to benefits.
Wednesday’s ruling focuses on a central tenet of the gig economy. Treating workers as contractors, not employees, allows companies to keep costs low, cut down on red tape and avoid paying benefits. Uber has long argued the model benefits workers in the gig economy by giving them flexibility and choice in when they work and how much.