Plumbers and politics: still searching for the Philosopher's stone on employment status

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Plumbers and politics: still searching for the Philosopher's stone on employment status

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I have written before about the “Uber” decision and all the legal complexities that surround the issue of employment status.  

The issue has now become not just a legal – but a political – hot potato.

Since the decision in Uber, the Court of Appeal has dismissed an argument by Pimlico Plumbers that the relationship between them and their plumbers was a “business model” and found the plumber in question (Mr Smith) to be a “worker” and thus entitled to paid holiday, sick pay and the National Minimum Wage (like the Uber drivers). A Citysprint cycle courier has also persuaded a Tribunal that she is a “worker” - Citysprint’s arrangements were described as contorted, indecipherable and window-dressing (some old-school lawyers involved in drafting the arrangements might take that as a compliment). 

Cases involving couriers and drivers working for Addison Lee, eCourier, Excel, DX and the Doctors Laboratory are all apparently now working their way through the Employment Tribunal system.
You might also have seen articles about UK Mail, DPD and Parcelforce charging drivers when they are sick. DPD and Parcelforce Worldwide have been asked to come before a parliamentary committee to answer questions (which can be politically effective - remember the grilling of Mike Ashley of First Direct?).
Like all things, the issue of employment status is driven by money.  Employees or workers are expensive. You have to pay not only holiday pay and sick pay, but also employer’s NICs and pension contributions on top.  So, the route forward might be through a two-pronged approach – the courts and the tax system. 

Spreadsheet Phil did make a politically ill-fated attempt to change the tax treatment of the self-employed in this year’s Budget. Hopefully, the Government will put a more consolidated proposal on the table. A Review into the “gig economy” has been commission by Matthew Taylor and is expected to make recommendations in June.

To be honest, this can often feel like quite a turgid area of law. I was therefore bemused to find a rare and unexpected moment of levity from the Office of Tax Simplification, who had this say about the complexities of employment status in a recent report “if we did manage to ‘solve it’, we should immediately move on to world peace as we’d clearly be on a roll” and “we have not found the tax equivalent of the philosopher’s stone that will suddenly transmute all the base problems into shining clarity”. 

I suspect, however, that the Office of Tax Simplification are not Harry Potter fans, otherwise they would know that the quest for the Philosopher’s Stone can lead you into all kinds of trouble!