NSW Fair Trading and the Australian Refrigeration Mechanics Association (ARMA) have shared information about efforts to stop air conditioning and refrigeration contractors operating outside their licenses.
ARMA has been working for some time through its Mates Rates for Fridgies app to collect information about licensing breaches.
According to ARMA CEO Kim Limburg, these include advertising services when the contractors do not hold the necessary qualifications, and actual work done on sites by unqualified contractors.
“What we found typically was an electrician or a plumber would be doing air conditioning work and they weren’t licensed to actually do that,” says Limburg.
In general, cracking down on unlicensed contractors has been complicated by the patchwork of regulations across the country. Limburg notes that the stricter rules in NSW have helped with the process. There is a specific licence class for refrigeration and air conditioning, and a technician must hold a Certificate III to do any RAC work.
“The Australian public are very confused,” says Limburg. “Who do they call? They think they need to call a plumber in Victoria, an electrician in Queensland, and an electrician in most other states, and it’s not the case.
“NSW has recognised that there are three very clear, specialised trades: plumbing, electrical, and refrigeration and air conditioning. They’re respectful of each trade and clearly acknowledge the safety around licensing. It’s a model that we should see being reflected throughout the country.”
Limburg says NSW is also leading the way in terms of enforcing compliance through Fair Trading and the Building Investigation Branch.
Fair Trading recently revealed that 31 traders identified by ARMA may have breached section 5 of the Home Building Act 1989 by seeking air conditioning work outside the scope of their licenses.
In cases where Fair Trading detects non-compliance, it has a range of enforcement options. These include trader education, formal warnings, corrective advertising and enforceable undertakings, as well as civil and criminal proceedings. The action taken depends on factors such as the circumstances of the breach and the trader’s compliance history.
As a first step, Fair Trading has issued formal education letters. This may be followed by disciplinary action or prosecution if the traders fail to comply with the act.
Limburg says that the measures so far have been appropriate.
“With any compliance processes, when someone’s doing the wrong thing, they do need to be given that opportunity to correct what they’re doing. And if they’re found to be doing it again the penalties will be a lot more severe.”
She also underlines the importance of pursuing compliance to ensure the safety of the public and those working in the trade.
“Every day in this amazing trade people’s lives are at risk. It’s disappointing.”