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Plumber claims court victory in battle over employment rights

A plumber has won the latest round in campaigns to win rights for the growing army of self-employed workers, amid the threat of industrial action in parts of the so-called gig economy.

The Court of Appeal rejected an appeal by Pimlico Plumbers on the employment status of former worker Gary Smith.

He worked for the London-based firm for six years until 2011, and had already won an employment tribunal case after challenging the company's view he was self-employed.

His solicitor Jacqueline McGuigan said Friday's court decision could affect other workers in the gig economy, such as delivery drivers.

"We are absolutely delighted. The decision brings welcome clarity to the issue of employment status relating to work in parts of the economy," she told the Press Association.

Mr Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers as a plumber for six years until 2011, when he claims he was dismissed following a heart attack.

He took a case to a tribunal, which found he was a "worker" and so was entitled to employment rights.

Lawyers believe the decision will have a significant impact on the gig economy, which has seen a huge increase in the number of people working under self-employed contracts.

Pimlico Plumbers boss Charlie Mullins said he was "likely" to take the case to the Supreme Court.

Asked about the impact of the decision on the employment status of the company's 350 staff, he said: "I don't think it will affect us.

"This contract was six years ago - we have changed our contracts since then."

Mr Mullins said workers could earn up to £100,000 if they were self-employed, twice as much as if they were directly employed.

Maria Ludkin, the GMB union's legal director, said: "This case, like the Uber case last October, is yet another victory for the bogus self-employed who have been treated appallingly by their employer.

"All they want is basic employment rights as are enjoyed by the majority, including the right to be paid a minimum wage and holiday pay."

The GMB is supporting a group of Deliveroo drivers in Brighton who have given two weeks' notice to the company to offer better pay and more hours or face protests and strike action.

They are currently classed as "independent contractors", not workers or employees, and are not entitled to basic employment rights such as minimum wage, holiday or sick pay, said the GMB.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said the Pimlico Plumbers case had exposed the growing problem of "sham self-employment", adding: " Unscrupulous bosses falsely claim their workers are self-employed.

"This allows them to get out of paying the minimum wage and providing basics like paid holidays and rest breaks.

"The Government must crack down on these shady employment practices by beefing up the law."

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which funded Mr Smith's case, said: "This judgment will help workers who are incorrectly described as contractors by the companies they work for.

"Companies will no longer be able to avoid their duty to provide workers with support such as sickness benefits."

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