I’m supposed to say I’m disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled against Pimlico Plumbers, by ruling that plumber, Gary Smith, was a worker, rather than the self-employed contractor we all knew he was when he was carrying out work for my company.
In reality I am disgusted by the approach taken to this case by the highest court in the United Kingdom.
The five judges had the opportunity to drag our outdated employment law into the 21st Century, but instead they bottled the decision, and as a result thousands of companies across the UK, who use contractors in an honest and responsible way, remain exposed to huge potential claims in the future.
This case was never about exploitation of so-called ‘gig economy’ workers, this was about a highly-skilled, self-employed plumber, who was earning a six figure salary, wanting to have his cake and eat it! And to be crystal clear here that means Gary Smith expects companies like mine to pay him twice.
During his time with us he bought his own tools and materials, reclaiming tax on both; he worked when he wanted to, and even employed his wife to perform secretarial tasks, which he offset against his tax bill. This arrangement, it is also important to say, was checked out and approved by HMRC.
There was never any question that Gary was anything other than a self-employed contractor, until he became ill and his circumstances changed, at which point he decided that it would suit him better to be considered an employee, so he could claim more money from Pimlico Plumbers.
For those who think this is a victory for poorly paid workers everywhere, against large corporations who exploit their lack of bargaining power, think again! This was exploitation alright, but that of a highly-paid, highly-skilled man who used a loophole in current employment law to set himself up for a double pay-day.
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. 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!