A Facebook group chat has landed two Sydney roofing repair businesses in hot water, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission alleging the comments amounted to price fixing.
In a statement released this morning, the ACCC condemned a Facebook discussion from December last year where representatives from the two businesses called damaging Sydney hailstorms a “perfect opportunity” to set minimum prices for repairing damages.
The comments were posted by Mark Lee Burtenshaw, director of ANZ Roofing, and Brent Cameron Callan-Kerkenezov, director of Ivy Contractors, in two Facebook groups that the ACCC said are used by “thousands of roofing providers in the greater Sydney area to advertise jobs and discuss industry issues”.
In response to the ACCC’s concerns, the companies have provided the competition watchdog with court-enforceable undertakings that acknowledge the comments may constitute an attempt to fix prices, and could raise concerns about ‘concerted practices’ that prohibit competition.
The undertakings from the companies also include a commitment not to repeat the behaviour and for the directors to undertake compliance training in competition and consumer law. ANZ Roofing will also publish a post about anti-competitive conduct in one of the groups.
According to the ACCC, Burtenshaw removed the concerning posts from the two groups following the ACCC’s investigation and Kerkenezov left the group he had posted in.
Taking into consideration Burtenshaw and Kerkenezov’s cooperation with the investigation and the size of the two businesses, the ACCC has opted not to commence legal proceedings.
“The community will not just find this outrageous, it is also anti-competitive, and illegal under Australian competition laws,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said in the statement.
The ACCC warns businesses that participating in similar discussions or sharing price information with competitors is prohibited from online platforms or private chats.
Although responding to market conditions is allowed, “businesses must remember that attempts by competitors to set prices or share pricing information, whether on social media or in any other forum, are likely to breach Australian cartel and concerted practices laws,” Sims said.
SmartCompany contacted Ivy Contractors but the company declined to comment on the case. SmartCompany contacted ANZ Roofing but did not receive a response prior to publication.
Proceed with caution in Facebook groups
Writing for SmartCompany in 2016, small business marketing specialist Craig Reardon encouraged small businesses to join Facebook groups to take advantage of the networking opportunities.
However, he also warned business owners to remain professional, and not to mix in personal behaviour, saying, “others have little idea of what constitutes fair play between business operators in the same forum”.
“In a medium where your conflict of interest or impartiality is not always evident, many business operators take advantage of their relative arms length from their businesses to at best self promote, and at worst, troll and even hack their competitors,” Reardon warned.