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26May94 UK: OUTRAGE OVER 5PC PAY DOCK - FM CONWAY.

A London streetworks contractor has enraged its self-employed workforce by docking 5 per cent from wages to cover theft and damage to plant.As a result many workers have seen their take-home pay shrink by around £50 a month.Union officials branded as illegal the decision by north London-based F M Conway to deduct the money, claiming it breaches the 1986 Wages Act.But a spokesman for the company claimed those affected by the 'retention system' were bona fide subcontractors.He said: 'We see them as subcontractors and as part of industry practice retention is normal.'Simon Jeffreys, employment law expert at solicitor McKenna, said the firm may be in breach of the law.He said: 'Were it tested by a court it is quite likely that these lump labourers would be regarded as workers. Therefore they would be protected by the Wages Act.'He added that any deduction would have to be based on proven losses.In a letter to all labour-only subcontractors Conway says: 'It is proposed to deduct 5 per cent of your gross earnings to a maximum of £750. These monies will be held against theft or negligence claims and released intact on the completion of your services if no claims have arisen.'But its workers claim the firm is making 'across the board' deductions if any plant or vehicles are stolen or damaged.Construction union UCATT has advised taking legal action, but the workers fear that raising the issue would get them sacked.One worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said: 'As far as I can see this charge is just a way for Conway to reduce its labour bill. If it gets away with it others will follow suit.' CONSTRUCTION NEWS