FORUM ON CONSUMER PROTECTION ZOOMS ON CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

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Pricing issues involving construction workers was addressed on 10 July during the consultation of the Consumer Protection legislation at the HLSCC Auditorium.  

The matter was raised by a resident who asked the panel that included Premier Hon. Andrew Fahie, Junior Minister of Trade and Economic Development Hon. Sharie de Castro, and other government Ministers: “I noticed in the taxi industry you have from point A to point B the specific cost. Is there any such regulations, any such provision for any of those providers can charge for their services?”   

The resident suggested that such a tariff would be useful if a construction dispute is taken to court. “For the purposes of litigation should we create some sort of benchmark in terms of guiding the Magistrate or the judge should a dispute arise in the construction industry between the provider and the consumer in terms of pricing, quality of service, duration and that sort of thing…Should there be a benchmark, because they always say a person can charge how much he wants or she wants. Are we going to put some kind of [tariff]?” the resident asked.    

However, Policy Analyst/Strategic Adviser in the Premier’s Office Lizette George explained that the matter of such a tariff for construction workers meanders into the area of price control, which the Consumer Protection Act does not provide for: “No it does not address price control. However, it addresses the fact that prices cannot be manipulated in any negative way,” George stated.   

When asked to explain how the legislation guards against price manipulation the Policy Analyst alluded to the 2017 price gouging after the disasters stating. “What that [Consumer Protection legislation] would seek to do is give the Minister the opportunity now to place certain regulations in place for disaster in terms of ensuring that there is no price gouging, but it doesn’t specifically say price gouging in the Act. It only speaks to that suppliers are prohibited from manipulating the prices but the Minister now can create the necessary regulation. Come another disaster — God forbid that they don’t manipulate the prices in terms of carrying them up and bringing them down and taking them sideways.”   

Meanwhile, Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie noted that he is cognizant of the situation regarding the construction/consumer arrangements. However, he noted that the call for tariff does border on price control which the Premier said is a weighty discussion since the market often regulates itself.   

Nonetheless, Hon. Fahie offered advice on how consumers may address the issue of contractor fall out. He explained that under the proposed legislation consumers are advised to ensure that they collect a receipt for their various transactions.   

“What is covered under… the proposed legislation is that once you enter into an agreement with the contractor or the carpenter, whoever the case may be once you have that agreement with them then you can hold them to the price that they give you. This Act protects you as a consumer with the agreement you get provided too that when you pay them you also get a receipt,” the Premier advised.   

However, Hon. Fahie said that he is aware that some of the formalities associated with entering into a business arrangement is often ignored because of recommendations etc. “Most of the times we do not do that. We just hear that our sister or uncle has someone working, they say he’s good so we pick him up, tell him we have this work to do, and just start. Then when we look we get way out into the ocean, and then the problem arise.”    

Additionally, the Premier noted that some of the faulty arrangements have other issues to result in grievances: “What happens here now in terms of what you are speaking is something that happens quite a bit. The person who is hired as a side job does the job and from my understanding people pay them cash and then when the dispute starts up there’s no paper trail of — one, a contract being held, and two — any receipt that you have paid them this already and they have raised the price; and three which is worst yet they are working outside of their work permit if it’s a work permit that they’re on,” Hon. Fahie added.   

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