almost 2 years ago by Lauren Fonseca

The Gig Economy: An Update (March 2018)

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Case law around “gig working” and what defines a “self employed” person is constantly evolving. Currently, a case brought against Pimlico Plumbers is being heard by the UK Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK, in which Gary Smith, previously a plumber at Pimlico for 5 years, has argued that he should have in fact been entitled to workers’ rights during his time there, rather than be classed as self-employed as written originally in his contract. Pimlico has so far lost at every stage of this case but continues to appeal lower courts’ rulings that Mr Smith was indeed a “worker” (as he was contractually obliged to work a minimum number of hours a week and required to use the company’s van whilst carrying out assignments).

This case is significant, as it marks the first time that the UK Supreme Court will make a ruling around gig workers’ rights in Britain’s ever-growing gig economy. As such, it could have significant ramifications on other cases currently at lower stages of the courts, including a case against cab company Uber.

We previously discussed the wide-reaching impact the gig economy has on the shape of Britain’s workforce and the ways that this has continued to spill out over onto other classifications of workers and employment at large. More and more, we see residents of Britain whose working situation looks very much like Mr Smith’s – it is in fact now estimated that Britain has roughly 1 million gig workers in live engagements.

The lack of legal protection gig workers receive comparatively to employees is significant enough that a judgement over hundreds of thousands of workers having been incorrectly classified as self-employed and thus all having a legal case against the companies they represent could have huge  ramifications, particularly in cases like Mr Smith’s, where he is arguing compensation for unfair dismissal and holidays. Moreover, unlike Uber, Pimlico Plumbers is not an app-based tech company – as such, the result of this case could ripple out to a good number many other businesses who use similar structures beyond tech and app-based firms.

Thus far in Britain, the courts have, on many occasions, sided against self-employment – indeed, in the last year a worker at delivery firm CitySprint and a former newsreader at the BBC were both classed as having been deemed self employed incorrectly. On the other side, food delivery service Deliveroo has argued successfully that their drivers are not ‘workers’, since someone else is able to complete a job in place of any Deliveroo worker.

The people of Britain must now wait to see what the verdict on the Smith/Pimlico case will be – but much more than that, what kind of weight this will have on all the companies operating in the UK using a gig economy model and how far reaching this result might potentially be.  It’s highly likely that as this landscape evolves, the case is built for a 3rdcategory of worker, with more autonomy on how they chose to work, that falls somewhere along the spectrum of employed and self-employed.