Workers or self-employed, the new debate

Workers or self-employed, the new debate


A spike over the past year in the number of high-profile court cases dealing with employment status and workers’ rights has prompted calls for a clearer definition in law of who is and who is not self-employed.

In the most significant decision, the supreme court last month found that a heating engineer at London-based Pimlico Plumbers, Gary Smith, was not self-employed, as the company had claimed. It found that he should have been treated as a worker, and was therefore entitled to certain employment rights.

The case followed a string of other decisions in employment tribunals in the past few months which found that, for example, couriers engaged by Hermes, Deliveroo and Addison Lee should also have been treated as workers.

The rise in the number of cases highlights the lack of legal certainty over employment status, the UK’s leading self-employed trade body, IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed), has said.

“Businesses should not be able to exploit uncertainty around employment status to simply declare that their workforce should all be contractors,” IPSE’s Simon McVicker, director of policy, said.

“The government must write into law a positive definition of what constitutes self-employment. This would send a clear signal about who is and who isn’t self-employed and would rectify the current need to go through long and costly court battles to determine employment status.”

The supreme court found Smith was not self-employed because Pimlico Plumbers required him to wear a branded uniform, drive a branded car which had a tracker and carry an ID. There were also restrictions on the way he was paid, and he was required to closely follow the company’s administrative instructions.

“The vast majority of the UK’s 4.8 million self-employed are what they claim to be: genuine business-to-business engagements which are mutually beneficial to both parties,” McVicker added.