Truck Acts is the name given to
legislationthat outlaws truck systems, which are also known as "company store" systems, or debt bondage. Such laws date back in Britain to the 15th centurybut have also been implemented in other countries.
The modern successor of the Truck Acts is found in the Employment Rights Act 1996, ss.13-27. This replaced and updated the Wages Act 1986 which had itself repealed the Truck Acts. A case called "Bristow v. City Petroleum" ["Bristow v. City Petroleum"  1 WLR 529, 532] was the last case to be decided under the old legislation and in it, Lord Ackner in the
House of Lordsgave a short history of the previous regime:
cquote|The old Truck enactments were very numerous and date from about the year
1464. The particular evil intended to be remedied was the truck system, or payment by masters of their men's wages wholly or in part with goods -- a system open to various abuse -- when workmen were forced to take goods at their master's valuation. The statutes were applied first to one branch of manufacture, and then in succession to others, as experience and the progress of manufactures dictated, until they embraced the whole or nearly the whole of the manufactures of England. They established the obligation, and produced, or at least fortified the custom, of uniformly paying the whole wages of artificers in the current coin of the realm. By 1831they were collected and consolidated in one Act (1 & 2 Will. 4, c. 37). They were, in truth, part of a system of legislation regulating the relation of a master and workman, this part of it being in favour of the workman, who, as an individual, was deemed weaker than his master and therefore liable to oppression: per Byles J. in "Archer v. James" (1859) 2 B. & S. 61, 82. That Act by section 3 provided:
"That the entire amount of the wages earned by or payable to any
artificerin any of the trades herein-after enumerated, in respect of any labour by him done in any such trade, shall be actually paid to such artificer in the current coin of this realm, and not otherwise;..."
By sections 23 and 24 certain deductions were permitted to be made. Litigation in respect of those sections gave rise to some unsatisfactory decisions. In "Chawner v. Cummings" (1846) 8 Q.B. 311, it was held it was not illegal for employers, following the practice of the
hosierytrade, to let out frames to the framework knitters in their employ and to deduct the rent from the earnings. In "Archer v. James", 2 B. & S. 61 that decision was challenged in respect of deductions for rent of frame, rent of machine, standing room, winding the yarn, gas and firing. However, the Court of Queen's Benchrefused to depart from the decision in "Chawner v. Cummings", 8 Q.B. 311 and in the ExchequerChamber the six judges were equally divided, with the result that the judgment of the Court of Queen's Bench was affirmed. This led to the passing of the Hosiery Manufacture (Wages) Act 1874 (37 & 38 Vict. c. 48) which provided by section 1:
"...the earnings of labour in the hosiery manufacture shall be actually and positively made payable in net, in the current coin of the realm, and not otherwise, without any deduction or stoppage of any description whatever, save and except for bad and disputed workmanship."
Specific provision was made by section 2 that all contracts to stop wages, and all contracts for frame rents and charges, between employer and artificers, shall be illegal, null and void.
1887a further Truck Act was passed, the Truck Amendment Act 1887 (50 & 51 Vict. c. 46), which, "inter alia", contained the important provision (section 2) that the expression "artificer" be construed to include every workman as defined in the Employers and Workmen Act 1875 (38 & 39 Vict. c. 90).
In "Redgrave v. Kelly" (1889) 5 T.L.R. 477, the respondent was the proprietor of a
confectioner's business employing at a weekly wage a large number of persons, including several young girls. He deducted tuppencefrom the weekly wage of one girl for spoiling a paste brush and for badly doing her work of wrapping up confectionery. He deducted a similar sum from another girl for spoiling a tray of work and being impudent. An information laid by the inspector of factories alleged that those deductions from the wages were payments otherwise than in coin and thus in breach of section 3 of the Act of 1831. The magistrate held otherwise, the inspector appealed and the Divisional Court dismissed the appeal. In the very short report of his judgment Mathew J., with whom Grantham J. concurred, said that the mischief against which the Act was directed was not non-payment of wages by reason of deduction of fines, but payment of wages by goods. Shortly, thereafter, another case raised the question of permitted deductions, namely "Hewlett v. Allen & Sons"  2 Q.B. 662. In that case the plaintiff on leaving the defendant's service sought to recover deductions which had been made from her wages, with her full agreement in writing, of weekly subscriptions for a sick and accident club. She lost her claim because of her acquiescence in such payments, but in giving the judgment of the Court of AppealBowen L.J. said, at p. 664:
"The clear intention of the Truck Acts was to ensure to workmen the payment of the entire amount of their wages in actual current coin of the realm, unfettered by any promise or obligation that it should be spent in any particular manner, or at any particular shop. The legislature endeavoured to secure that the workman might have in his hand the very actual coin representing his wages, in order that he and his family might freely carry it home, or spend it without impediment in the open market... The Truck Act of 1831...attempted to enforce this object by rendering illegal every payment, or contract for payment, of wages, except in the mode provided by the Act."
He further stated, at p. 666:
"The employer cannot, for the purpose of compliance with the statute, be both payer and payee. To hold otherwise would be to make the statute idle."
Parliament clearly thought it desirable to clarify what deductions from the sum contracted to be paid to the workmen or what payments to the employer by the workmen, the employer was entitled to provide for in his contract. Accordingly the Truck Act 1896 was passed. I set out hereunder the whole of sections 1 and 2 and the material part of section 3 which cover three heads of deductions or payments, which in certain limited circumstances the employer is entitled to provide for in the contract of employment:
"1(1) An employer shall not make any contract with any workman for any deduction from the sum contracted to be paid by the employer to the workman, or for any payment to the employer by the workman, for or in respect of any fine, unless --(a) the terms of the contract are contained in a notice kept constantly affixed at such place or places open to the workmen and in such a position that it may be easily seen, read, and copied by any person whom it affects; or the contract is in writing, signed by the workman; and(b) the contract specified the acts or omissions in respect of which the fine may be imposed, and the amount of the fine or the particulars from which that amount may be ascertained; and(c) the fine imposed under the contract is in respect of some act or omission which causes or is likely to cause damage or loss to the employer, or interruption or hindrance to his business; and(d) the amount of the fine is fair and reasonable having regard to all the circumstances of the case.(2) An employer shall not make any such deduction or receive any such payment, unless --(a) the deduction or payment is made in pursuance of, or in accordance with, such a contract as aforesaid; and(b) particulars in writing showing the acts or omissions in respect of which the fine is imposed and the amount thereof are supplied to the workman on each occasion when a deduction or payment is made.(3) This section shall apply to the case of a shop assistant in like manner as it applies to the case of a workman."2(1) An employer shall not make any contract with any workman for any deduction from the sum contracted to be paid by the employer to the workman, or for any payment to the employer by the workman for or in respect of bad or negligent work or injury to the materials or other property of the employer, unless --(a) the terms of the contract are contained in a notice kept constantly affixed at such place or places open to the workmen and in such a position that it may be easily seen, read, and copied by any person whom it affects; or the contract is in writing, signed by the workman; and(b) the deduction or payment to be made under the contract does not exceed the actual or estimated damage or loss occasioned to the employer by the act or omission of the workman, or of some person over whom he has control, or for whom he has by the contract agreed to be responsible; and(c) the amount of the deduction or payment is fair and reasonable, having regard to all the circumstances of the case.(2) An employer shall not make any such deduction or receive any such payment unless --(a) the deduction or payment is made in pursuance of, or in accordance with, such a contract as aforesaid; and(b) particulars in writing showing the acts or omissions in respect of which the deduction or payment is made and the amount thereof are supplied to the workman on each occasion when a deduction or payment is made."3(1) An employer shall not make any contract with any workman for any deduction from the sum contracted to be paid by the employer to the workman, or for any payment to the employer by the workman for, or in respect of, the use or supply of materials, tools or machines, standing room, light, heat, or for or in respect of any other thing to be done or provided by the employer in relation to the work or labour of the workman unless..."
Before concentrating on the point of construction, it is interesting, as a matter of history, to note "Williams v. North's Navigation Collieries" (1889) Ltd.  A.C. 136. It decided that the Truck Act 1831 did not allow an employer when paying wages to a workman to make any deductions except those expressly sanctioned by the Act. Therefore, he could not deduct money which a court of summary jurisdiction had ordered the workman to pay to the employer in respect of breaches of contract to work. In his speech Lord Loreburn L.C. said, at p. 140:
"it appears to me that an obligation rests upon the employer under the Truck Act 1831 section 3, to pay in coin...all the money payable as wages, and that in ascertaining how much is payable as wages he can subtract nothing except the deductions expressly sanctioned by the Act."
"Redgrave v. Kelly", 5 T.L.R. 477, was cited in argument, but was not referred to in any of the speeches. As Robert Goff L.J. observed  1 W.L.R. 1371, 1380, in giving the judgment of the Divisional Court in this appeal:
"The decision in Redgrave v. Kelly is difficult to reconcile with the decision in the Williams case; and it is therefore a matter of some speculation whether, if the Williams case had been decided before 1896, Parliament would have thought it necessary to enact section 1, or indeed section 2, of the Act of 1896."
In Britain and/or the
United Kingdom, a series of Acts of Parliamenthave been enacted to make truck systems illegal:
Truck Act of 1725
Truck Act of 1831
Truck Act of 1887
Truck Act of 1896
The rise of manufacturing industry saw many company owners cashing in on their workers by paying them in full or in part with tokens, rather than coin of the realm. These tokens were exchangeable for goods at the company store, often at highly-inflated prices. The Truck Act of 1831 made this practice illegal in many trades, and the law was extended to cover nearly all manual workers in 1887.
Workmen's Compensation Act 1897
Payment of Wages Act 1991
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