19 Feb Uber drivers and plumbers are not the same, whatever the Supreme Court says
After today’s Supreme Court ruling that Uber drivers should be classed as workers and not self-employed the inevitable comparisons with our old case have already started.
For those that need reminding, one of our former plumbers, Gary Smith sued Pimlico for employment rights, including back-dated holiday pay, despite being a self-employed plumbing contractor and signing a contract to that effect and earning more than £500,000 over three years from the company.
During his time with Pimlico Plumbers, he operated as self-employed and was VAT registered. He paid taxes on a self-employed basis, bought his own tools and materials, on which he reclaimed tax, also claiming for an office in his home, chose when he wanted to work, and even employed his wife to carry out secretarial tasks for him and offset that as a business expense.
This included a trip to the Supreme Court where Mr Smith was deemed to be a worker and entitled to certain employment rights. It is, however, worth pointing out that Pimlico won the Employment Tribunal and rejected his claim for holiday pay.
And now, with Uber drivers celebrating their victory the debate around the so-called gig economy will again gain momentum and we will again wrongly be caught up in the swell of opinions.
During the eight years of our case, and since, there has been many comparisons made with gig economy cab firms, food delivery services and courier companies, which have been detrimental to our business.
With no disrespect to graft put in by Uber drivers, there is a huge difference in skills between their job and a plumber or heating engineer. That’s why some of our engineers are the best paid in the industry with an annual income of £100,000 or more.
The Taylor Report on modern employment states there are different classes of gig economy contractors, came up with the term ‘dependent contractor’ to describe low skilled workers who are at greater risk from exploitation in the labour market.
Skilled tradespeople, unlike drivers and couriers for example, are not dependent at all. Even if they are contracting solely to one company, they can easily take their skills elsewhere should they feel they are not getting a fair deal.
The law needs to understand there is a legitimate class of self-employed contractor, who may work predominantly for one employer and may even wear a uniform and carry an ID badge, but they are more of a contractor than a worker.
As such, companies that are paying these contractors in exactly the same way as those who may work for 10 different companies, should not have to provide all the benefits owed to employed staff.