Small tow-trucking operations are at loggerheads with industry giants and have taken their battle to the Western Cape High Court. This is after these businesses and their associations issued an official notice to all insurers and industry stakeholders to embark on a national strike against First Assist Management (FAM) (pty) Ltd and Bluespec Holdings.
FAM acts as the middleman between service providers and insurance companies, while Bluespec Holdings is the largest independent auto body repair group in the southern hemisphere.
Both FAM and Bluespec Holdings lodged an urgent application for an interdict against tow-trucking businesses. Arguing for the urgent application, advocate John Dickerson said the tow-truckers’ notice was highly defamatory. “There is incitement both by the notice and the campaign. It is a disparagement of trade and services. It is accusing people of manipulating the system. It incites breach of contractual obligations and boycott. What is being done here is unlawful and prescribes interdict only as a relief,” he said.
The notice read: “We hereby give official notice to the insurance sector that we stand united against all forms of tyranny and oppression perpetrated against black members in our industry and, as such, we have taken a decision to embark on a national strike against FAM and its new contracts and unfair practises and penalties.
“We are embarking on a nationwide industrial strike action against FAM. We will not work for or under FAM. We will not communicate with FAM, we will not invoice FAM in anyway.”
Dino Stewart, who has been in the tow-trucking industry for more than 40 years, told the Cape Argus that small tow-trucking SMMEs had made a mistake in 2003 by signing membership into the South African Motor Body Repairers Association (SAMBRA) under the pretext of bringing transformation in the then unregulated industry.
“SAMBRA signed a panel system agreement with the big insurance companies, and since then we have been suffering,” said Stewart.
The panel system meant that insurers of vehicles could exclusively determine which auto repair shops vehicles insured under them would use.
“Before the year 2003 we would make R2 500 for one vehicle. Now we make R1 200 per vehicle, if we are lucky, as most of the time we get penalised for not taking proper pictures at the scene. “About 90% of the jobs are given to elite companies and we fight over the 10%. Our industry has been captured,” said Stewart.
Judge Mokgoatjie Dolamo did not grant the interdict, but dubbed the matter a semi-urgent application. It will be heard early in 2018.