Angry customers call for petrol station boycott

ASHTEN MACDONALD

After workers were docked pay at Masterton's Night 'n Day store for drive-offs, we asked: Who should cover the cost of petrol theft?

Angry customers are calling for a boycott of service stations which dock workers for customer drive-offs.

The calls came after it was revealed today that at least four low-paid workers at Masterton's Night 'n Day store, which also operates a Gull service station, were docked hundreds of dollars in wages after customers fled without paying.

"Boycott all Night n' Day stores and pumps," said Stuff.co.nz reader "marty@wainui" in a comment on the story. "I for one am taking my business elsewhere until Gull resolves this," said fellow reader "jestriding".

Masterton Night n' Day franchisee Nick Lucas did not respond to questions today on whether he would scrap the controversial  policy of charging staff for drive-offs, which he defended yesterday as standard industry practice.

Both Gull's and Night n' Day's head offices were distancing themselves from the controversy.

"It doesn't read well and our sympathies are with the staff members, it's not our policy and it's not Night n' day policy that's been implemented here," said Gull New Zealand general manager Dave Bodger.

Night n' Day chief executive Tony Allison thought it likely he would be encouraging Lucas to drop the policy.

Meanwhile, workers at other companies said they had been docked pay for drive-offs. A worker at a Hutt Valley Caltex station, who asked not to be named, said he had been docked between $50 and $150 five or six times in two years. "I asked my boss, how are we supposed to stop the drivers? And he said... you've got to try to do your best to stop them getting off the forecourt." He sometimes worried about his safety chasing drive-offs down the road, he said. "But you don't want to pay for the drive-off so you just try and catch them."

Neither the Caltex station nor its head office responded to requests for comment.

A letter from Nick Lucas to his employees, seen by The Dominion Post, explained why he didn't eliminate the problem by making customers pay before filling up. "You need to remember that every time someone purchases just petrol from the store, we actually lose money," the May letter said.

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A Wairarapa community law worker said the problem was typical of contracts signed by young, inexperienced and under-educated workers. Standing up to an employer over perceived unfairness was tough and could result in hours being cut back or dismissal, Wairarapa Community Law Centre manager Murray Henderson said.

"They've signed that contract more or less under duress because it's like, sign it or there's 10 other people waiting."

Workers often had little idea of their rights and of how to go to the Employment Relations Authority, which involved costs, time and courage.

He encouraged affected workers to contact their local community law centre or the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Labour Inspectorate on 0800 20 90 20.

The ministry said it could not confirm today whether any complaints had been lodged through its contact centre.  

"However, the Labour Inspectorate treats issues like these seriously as they are potentially a breach of the Wages Protection Act which requires a worker to agree in writing to any deduction. We intend to follow-up with the employer."

Anyone with concerns should contact it on the 0800 number, it said.

 - Stuff

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