Charging petrol station workers for drive-offs

So workers at Masterton’s Night ‘n Day store have had their pay docked when criminals drive off without paying. From the flood of complaints coming from around the country, it’s not a practice that is confined only to Masterton, nor is it confined to Night ‘n Day or Gull service stations.

Now I’m not an employment lawyer. My experience with petrol station drive-offs instead comes from the criminal law side of things, when the petrol station staff have CCTV footage or a staff ID of a numberplate and driver, and the information results in an arrest. BP stations seem to have a system where staff won’t activate the pump until they’ve ensured that their CCTV cameras have picked up the numberplate. Presumably it’s not a system that is widely used, as a spokesman for Z Energy has said that drive-offs cost Z about $1 million per year.

At any rate, the Night ‘n Day manager at the centre of the whole furore, Nick Lucas, seldom reported thefts to Police, even when a positive ID was made, because (according to his former staff members) he’d already got the money back by docking his staff’s wages.

As I’ve said, I’m not an employment lawyer, but the employment lawyers I’ve spoken to seem to think that it’s likely an illegal practice. Anyway, here’s some thoughts:

  • If service station employees are expected to prevent drive-offs by physically preventing vehicles from exiting the forecourt, surely that raises some significant health and safety issues? If the first clue to a drive-off is the customer getting back into their vehicle and starting their engine, is the staff member supposed to put their body on the line and be driven over by a departing criminal?
  • Service stations can mitigate the cost of drive-offs by having their pumps on pre-pay. They often choose not to, presumably because it’s more lucrative to have customers pay afterwards, when they’re more inclined to buy a sandwich and a soft drink.
  • If service stations put up decent cameras and record the licence plates and faces of all customers, most offenders can therefore be prosecuted by Police. If the prosecution is successful, the cost of petrol taken can generally be recouped by way of a reparation order at sentence.
  • If a service station fail to put in place systems to reduce the likelihood of drive-offs (by way of pre-pay pumps or cameras that might deter potential offenders) or to mitigate the costs of drive-offs (using evidence from said cameras to file Police complaints, resulting in reparation orders), then the service station has only itself to blame.
  • When I worked at Waste Management during my student years, staff could be fined if damage occurred to machinery due to employee negligence. That’s very different from docking a staff member’s pay due to events over which the staff member essentially has no control.

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn suggests a boycott of the service station chains that allow the practice to continue at their franchises. As of right now, that seems to be Night ‘n Day, Gull, Mobil and Caltex…

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