Monday, June 18, 2012

There is no such thing as a small victory

When we fight for our rights, there is no such thing as a small victory.

As most of you are aware, a few months ago we started a campaign called 'Save the Time'. Basically, we wanted to demonstrate to watch brands that we, the consumers, have certain rights and we want to be taken seriously.

This action was really long overdue.

Taking advantage of restriction on supply of spare parts to independent watchmakers, more watch manufacturers - and especially Swiss 'brand names' - are now forcing watch owners to undertake unnecessary repairs which they call "mandatory". As a result, often, the repair quotes are loaded with items which are not requested nor beneficial to watch owners.

While there is nothing wrong with being a monopolist, taking advantage of the monopoly and forcing consumers into service agreements which are only beneficial to the brand is something that is contrary to Australian Consumer Law.

For the first time, such practice has been exposed and dealt with at the NSW Consumers Tribunal level. On your behalf, Save the Time's spokesman initiated a case against a well known Swiss brand.

On 1st June 2012 Consumers, Traders and Tenancy Tribunal of NSW Sydney made an Order which I have attached for your reference.

This order basically states that a service centre for major Swiss watch brands is required to "provide ... Applicant with the specifically requested service ... without the additional recommended repairs."

This simple order is of great importance to Australian watch owners and Australian watchmakers because it deals with an issue which concerns many thousands of Australian consumers.

After the order was served, again, on your behalf, Save-the-Time has approached Office of Hon Anthony Roberts MP, who is Minister for Fair Trading in NSW, with a request that the order be made public and available for viewing online.

The order and our action generated substantial amount of interest and soon Mr. Tim James, Chief of Staff for Minister Roberts organized a meeting with your spokesperson.

It was a real honour and pleasure to meet with the Minister who actually took time form his busy schedule to visit the 'Save-The-Time' headquarters on June 15.

 Hon Anthony Roberts MP, Minister for Fair Trading with spokesman for Save-the-Time 

Minister Roberts was very keen to learn more about our campaign and was impressed with the number of petitions received in support. He mentioned a similar case in another industry which was brought to the Tribunal recently, and was resolved successfully. It was obvious that the Minister was proud of his department and the good job it does protecting the interests of Australian consumers.

Essentially, this is exactly what we campaign for: a fair trade - trade and servicing agreements which are beneficial to everyone involved.

Where do we go from here?

While this particular order is just a first step, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction.

It shows that no corporation is immune to being questioned about its policy towards consumers. While the preparation work may take months of efforts, and the order may appear minuscule, it does have a significant consequence in restoring fair trading and common sense.

It is also obvious that positive outcome can be achieved only when a number of people work together towards common interest.

Most importantly, the CTTT order sends very clear and very specific message to watch brands: we do understand our legal rights and we are ready to take a stand. Corporate bullying is not the way we do business in Australia.

Practical implication

You, as a watch owner and consumer, have the right to request for SPECIFIC SERVICE. While the watch servicing centre may recommend additional services, it is the owner's right to request and demand that only specific services be undertaken. Put your request in writing. If your request is ignored or if you are forced to undertake 'mandatory' service which is not to your benefit, contact the service centre again and let them know that you are willing to take the case to CTTT.

If necessary, make them know that you are part of a consumers' movement and that you are aware of a recent case where the Tribunal has made a decision which supports your stand.

I have no doubt that Swiss service centers will quickly get the message. We hope that their mindset and servicing policy will change for the better.

However, as two recent emails received from fellow subscribers clearly demonstrate, we are still not there.

Now is not the time to quit, rather it is the time to take an even firmer stand. We'll talk about that very soon.

To those of you who have publicly supported our campaign by signing a petition, a big THANK YOU and WELL DONE.