Panel beaters protest against insurer's policies

Thousands of panel beaters—belonging to the National Guild of Independent Auto-Body Repairers—braved the scorching sun in Johannesburg on Thursday to protest against the repair policies of insurer Mutual & Federal.

They accuse Mutual & Federal of using its dominant bargaining power to apply a “divide and rule” strategy by negotiating with individual panel beaters.

Guild chairperson Thaba Mufamadi said the strategy aims to close the guild down, as Mutual & Federal wants to outsource some of its core functions and only pay it for labour. “The insurer wants to procure parts directly from the manufacturer, thus taking some of our functions.”

He said panel beaters would lose 22% of their income if the plan went ahead and some of the functions in their workshops would be redundant. “This means skills will be lost to the industry and in the next 10 years we will be forced to close shop.”

The insurer is also accused of imposing punishing contractual terms that would compromise panel beaters’ ability to provide a proper service to Mutual & Federal’s clients.

Mufamadi explained that panel beaters buy parts directly from the manufacturer, and if there is a third party, parts supplied to panel beaters might not be of a good quality.

More than 5 000 panel beaters took part in the march, which started at the Library Gardens in the city centre. Marchers wearing green T-shirts, emblazoned with the words “Play fair”, vowed not to repair any car insured by Mutual & Federal until the dispute has been resolved.

Mufamadi said the panel beaters have not been repairing cars insured by Mutual & Federal for the past six weeks.

The marchers, followed by tow trucks, made their way along President Street, interrupting traffic for at least an hour, before a memorandum was handed to Mutual & Federal representative Keith Kennedy.

Mufamadi said that if the insurer does not give them a positive response within a week, panel beaters will call for a national strike.—Sapa

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