By Brocho Nemetsky
Brocho is a volunteer at the GMLC. She is interested in learning about our rights, and helping others to do the same. She works as a paralegal at Brian Barr Solicitors, and hopes to work as a Barrister.
What is the gig economy?
Most of us are familiar with companies like Uber and Deliveroo. What we may not immediately be familiar with is the business structure of these companies.
Deliveroo and Uber drivers, and people who work for similar companies in the gig economy, are self-employed. This means that they are not employees and they are not entitled to holiday pay, paid sick leave and other benefits. However, in law, these workers are actually classified as limb (b) workers, a classification that has existed since the 1970s. Limb (b) workers are legally entitled to the basic rights mentioned above. A limb (b) worker is worker is someone who, under section 167(1) of the Industrial Relations Act 1971, is a person who works ‘…b) under any other contract…whereby he undertakes to perform personally any work or services for another party to the contract who is not a professional client…’ Such workers are therefore referred to as Limb (b) workers.
It is therefore understandable that workers have complaints. They appear to get the worse end of both deals- they do not have the benefits that come with being employed, but do not have the freedom of being truly self-employed.
Pimlico Plumbers Ltd v. Smith
Recently, these complains have become more vocalised and noticed, with cases making the headlines. One recent case to gather widespread coverage is Pimlico Plumbers Ltd v. Smith. Mr Smith was employed as a plumber between 2005-2011. The company that employed him, Pimlico Plumbers, dictated elements of his employment such as what Mr Smith had to wear, and a minimum number of hours that he was required to work on certain days. Nevertheless, he was still not recognised as a worker and was therefore not granted sick leave and paid holiday. To most of us, this seems unfair. He, and workers like him, are treated as employees and yet their employers do not recognise this and therefore are not obligated to give them the basic rights that an employee is entitled to.
Employers emphasise the benefits of being self-employed. Employers claim that their workers can benefit from the more flexible hours, and it is convenient that they do not have to come on-site or work in a particular location. Employers can also find rather technical loopholes to avoid recognising their employees as limb (b) workers, and continue treating them as self-employed.
This argument has come to a head. So, what has changed? Have any advancements been made following the Supreme Court judgment on Pimlico Plumbers v. Smith?
No new laws have yet been made, and the decision in Pimlico Plumbers v. Smith cannot be enforced in other cases as it is specific to these particular circumstances. However, as with many ground-breaking cases, it is valuable in that it confirms and reinforces the existing law. It sets a persuasive precedent, which unions can use to strengthen their cases in the future. It shows that workers have rights which cannot and should not be ignored, or evaded using legal loopholes.
This effect can already be seen in cases following Pimlico Plumbers. 50 couriers delivering for Deliveroo went to court over the legal employment rights we have discussed. Deliveroo settled the case out of court for a 6- figure sum. Annie Powell, who represented the riders, stated ‘Deliveroo has paid out a material sum to settle these claims. In our view, this shows that Deliveroo knew that they were very likely to lose as the employment tribunal’. Whilst this is speculation, it is certainly true that each judgment in these workers’ favour paves the path for future cases.
Please note that, unless specified, GMLC volunteer articles are not written by qualified legal practitioners. This article provides commentary on current affairs and does not constitute legal advice or guidance.