A London plumber has won a legal battle for workers’ rights in the latest court ruling affecting freelance employees in the UK.

The London Court of Appeal has ruled that Pimlico Plumbers’ self-employed contractors in fact qualify as workers, meaning they are entitled to employment rights such as sick pay, minimum wage and paid holiday.

Gary Smith, a former employee of the London plumbing company, brought the case, claiming that he should have been entitled to basic employment rights. Mr Smith sued the company after he was dismissed following a heart attack. He said his status was more akin to an employee than contractor and that he should have received benefits such as sick pay.

Because Mr Smith worked a minimum of 40 hours a week, was required to wear company uniform and drive a Pimlico Plumbers van, the Judge ruled that he should be classed as a worker. Mr Smith paid his taxes as a self-employed worker, but had only worked for the one company, Pimlico Plumbers, for six years.

The decision could have an important impact at a time when self-employment is estimated to account for 45 per cent of UK jobs created since the 2007-08 financial crisis.

Charlie Mullins, founder of the London-based company, said before Friday’s ruling he had been “guided by the Inland Revenue”. But he argued: “If Gary was not a self-employed plumber he would not have been paid £80,000 a year. He would have been paid £40,000 a year on a PAYE system.”

Speaking to the BBC Today programme, Mr Mullins said: “All of a sudden he doesn’t want the self-employed basis and wants to have the rights of someone who is an employee, and that was never the case.”

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