Pimlico Plumbers and other employment status news

Late last month the Supreme Court delivered its long-awaited if not altogether surprising decision in Pimlico Plumbers v Smith. It upheld the decisions of the lower courts that Mr Smith should properly be classified as a worker, with attendant rights (including discrimination rights and holiday pay), rather than being self-employed.

Gary Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers for six years (from 2005-2011). Although he was VAT registered and paid self-employed tax, from an employment law perspective, he was nonetheless entitled to workers’ rights.

The judgment was unanimous and the lead judgment was provided by Lord Wilson. Having considered the history of the law concerning the status of workers (dating back to 1875), he considered the written agreements between Pimlico and Mr Smith (the original dated 2005 and a replacement issued in 2009), both of which he thought were confusing. However, he noted the extent of control exercised over Mr Smith including the right to dismiss him for gross misconduct, how he should provide his services, an obligation to provide advance notification of absences and the supply of tools. The second agreement included an obligation to wear Pimlico’s uniform, a minimum 40 hours’ working week, advance notice of annual leave and provision for warnings and dismissal.

He also noted that there was no provision for Mr Smith to appoint a substitute to do his work (other than by another Pimlico operative). Having considered relevant authorities, he concluded that “the dominant feature of Mr Smith’s contracts with Pimlico was an obligation of personal performance”.

There was an “umbrella contract” between Mr Smith and Pimlico whereby, if work was available to be done by him, he would be expected to do it. Nonetheless, Mr Smith correctly presented himself as self-employed for tax purposes.

Equal pay at the BBC

Eddie MairFollowing last year’s widely publicised equal pay audit at the BBC, there has been a good deal of concern expressed about the disparities between the earnings of some of the Corporation’s best known presenters.

The BBC’s former China editor, Carrie Gracie, complained that the male Middle East and North America editors, Jeremy Bowen and Jon Sopel, were earning at least 50% more than her. Her complaint attracted national newspaper coverage and widespread support from her colleagues. Last month the BBC backed down, apologised to her for underpaying her and said it had “now put this right” by giving her back pay. Ms Gracie donated the back pay to the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for women’s rights.

She had refused a £45,000 pay rise because this still left “a big gap” between her and her male counterparts and her objective was to secure equality. She will now, at her request, take six months’ unpaid leave. What struck me as odd about the matter is that the jobs were regarded as equal in the first place. It is undeniably the case that, over many years, the Middle East and North America editors have had a much higher profile than the China editor, whether male or female. Perhaps the most stark disparity between the jobs is the amount of significant news coverage emanating from the different locations. However, the crucial difference in this case was that, when accepting the appointment, Ms Gracie was told that her pay would be “on a par” with that of the North America editor. It turned out that he was in a bracket of £200,000 to £250,000, whereas she was paid £135,000 (Jeremy Bowen was in a bracket of £150,000 to £199,000).

Following Ms Gracie’s resignation last January, a number of well-known male presenters, including John Humphrys, Jeremy Vine, Nick Robinson, Huw Edwards and Jon Sopel, agreed to take pay cuts as part of a move to harmonise salaries.

However, one who notably refused to do so was the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, Eddie Mair.