There has been strong media coverage recently regarding the perilous status of the collision repair industry and the Collision Repair Assoc (CRA) has profiled the issue many times. The problems are many, and it’s said that the situation is approaching “the perfect storm”. Skilled labour shortages are not unique, but in the case of the panelbeaters and paint refinishing trades one of the contributing factors has been under-investment in training due to the sector’s marginal profitability, and lack of youth interest in the industry. Vehicle technology and construction sophistication has contributed to the problem, as has the failure of the big-brand insurance companies to recognise & remunerate the complexity and time required to repair modern vehicles to manufacturers’ specifications.
The sector’s problems are not unique to New Zealand, what happens in Australia immediately follows in NZ. The distressed state of Australian panelbeaters has been profiled extensively. Recently the Chair of the Australian Motor Body Repair Association (AMBRA) Morry Convasce, announced his retirement from the Board and from the industry entirely. In a bold move based on ethics and dignity, he closed LP Body Works Pty Ltd a family owned firm of panelbeaters and paint refinishers since 1966. It is with a heavy heart that Morry says “enough is enough”. When queried he explained that he will not compromise customers’ vehicles regardless of how much pressure major insurers place on him to accept underfunded activities. Morry is regarded by most repairers across Australia as one of the country’s most business savvy and technically capable repairers. He has been a staunch advocate of the Motor Vehicle Insurance and Repair Industry Code of Conduct and its push for improved industry standards, and is saddened that the Government has not yet mandated the proposed code.
Morry says he is pleased that recent advances should help panelbeaters to be paid fairly when returning vehicles to manufacturers’ specifications, but he is concerned that successive governments have not been sufficiently resourced to handle the huge number of mediations and/or determinations that have arisen. The only answer is for government to legislate the panelbeaters industry code and send a powerful message to insurers that they must play fair. Whilst remaining philosophical, Morry is resolute that he, like many other good panelbeaters and business operators, will not ‘cross-the-line’ and accept compromised or underfunded insurance work. “These recent determinations are a little too late for me,” he said. Morry closed by saying he is very disappointed that politicians and senior bureaucrats have not acted quickly enough to regulate the panelbeaters code. “I think they thought my advice while Chair was about crying wolf, despite them having all the proof they needed to act,” he said. The panelbeaters sector has thanked Morry for his tireless efforts over the eight years of his Chairmanship. They said that “at all times, he proved himself to be ethical and thorough and he instinctively fought the good fight for his many colleagues, panelbeaters, and the wider collision repair industry.”
Meantime, back in NZ the panelbeaters sector is also in a crisis of skilled labour and escalating repair complexity that the big-brand insurers have fallen well behind on recognising and remunerating. Most collision repairs are paid at the lowly rate of $60 – $70/hr – barely enough to cover wages and rent and keep the doors open. This is in stark contrast to dealership mechanical service centres where the market rate averages around $120/hr. Both trades require similar levels of investment in labour, training, equipment and premises. Industry observers are clear that there is no justification for the disparity that has accelerated over the past decade and decimated the numbers of panelbeaters now operating in NZ. While big brand insurance company profits escalate, dependent small business are wiped out, and customer service delays have quadrupled in a decade. The CRA continues discussions with the insurance sector in the hope of addressing the crisis.