Petrol station staff are being forced by bosses to pay for fuel nicked by motorists, The Sunday People has revealed.
Some service station owners dock their wages when thieves drive off from the pumps without paying.
As fuel theft reaches record levels, the Petrol Retailers Association believes the penalty is the “ultimate sanction” against negligent staff.
But union leaders have blasted the practice as “immoral and illegal”.
More than a million “pump and run” thefts take place annually. Latest Home Office figures show it is costing the nation’s garages £31.4million a year, up from £24.6million in 2012.
Petrol station staff say “pump and run” incidents have become common. In some cases cashiers have the total cost of the stolen fill-up – between £50 and £60 on average – docked from pay.
One worker at a Manchester forecourt said: “They speed off and you don’t have time to see the registration number. It’s awful that it comes out of your wages.”
Others in London and Liverpool also say they have been penalised. One said: “It happens quite a bit. But there’s not much we can do about it.”
Garage owners say the docking of wages happens in a “handful” of cases where staff have found to broken company rules for authorising a purchase. But unions have hit back. The GMB’s Paul Maloney said: “It is illegal to deduct wages unless it is specifically written into people’s contract of employment.
“In most cases it’s legally not right. It’s morally not right. It’s the responsibility of the forecourt owner to install security such as number plate recognition. They shouldn’t pass on their responsibilities to their lowest-paid members of staff.”
Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, representing independent forecourts, defended the pay docking.
He said: “Every fuel purchase has to be visualised and authorised. If not, it may well be after one warning, the cashier could be liable to pay it back.”
He said some firms told cashiers in training if they were negligent over thefts “the ultimate sanction may be to deduct some or all of the loss from wages.
“The cashier has to complete a form saying they understand what the penalties are. It’s very irregular because there are other sanctions before you get to a financial penalty.”