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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Plumbing The Depths of Price Gouging.

A Bajan acquaintance, "McDonald", sent me a story about his recent experience with local price gouging.

This is what he actually wrote:

"A few days ago, I noticed that the water in the sink located in our drying yard was draining very slowly. Then on Monday my helper informed me that water was leaking from the top of a manhole. The last time that this happened, and I was slow to act on the signals, the water in the powder room toilet, the washing machine and the kitchen sink backed up, creating a mess. At that time I called a company called H & J Septic Services Ltd. They came promptly and pumped out the entire system doing a creditable job for an affordable fee.

Thus, because of the problems I had then, I decided to call the same company hoping that they would respond as quickly as last time. Unfortunately, the telephones at the company were not in service. I then called WHITE'S SEPTIC SERVICES, picked at random from the Yellow Pages ( I deliberately avoided calling the larger companies because I figured that I would stand a better chance of a speedy response from a smaller company). A gentleman by the name of "Victor White" answered and promised to come over and check out the problem as soon as he had dropped the children at school. He appeared in less than an hour to my delight. I explained what was happening and told him that the system was cleaned approx. a year ago and that I suspected that the roots of our Jamaican ackee tree had invaded the pipes and caused the blockage.

He checked the manholes out then snaked the system and blew compressed air through the pipes. Then he removed some twisted root tendrils that had grown inside. The job was completed in less than thirty minutes, at which point I requested the cost. He pursed his lips and said $450. I was surprised and commented that I was in the wrong profession, to which he replied that the hazardous nature of the work justified the price.

I know that he is a professional in his field doing a job that I could not do myself and I was at fault because I did not get an estimated cost up front, but I am convinced that he charged me based on my address. There is this misconception in Barbados that everyone living in "the heights" is rich, and unfortunately some unscrupulous tradesmen overcharge. I got caught because I was so eager to have the job done that I did not get a price up front. Later in the day my plumber came to my house and was blown away when I told him what I had been charged. On October 24, 2007, I paid H & J Septic Services Ltd. $172.50 for cleaning the grease traps and pumping the entire system.

In future, if I am dealing with any tradesman for an emergency job, I will enquire about the cost before the job is started."

"McDonald" has a number of legitimate beefs, I think. Is there this location discrimination in Barbados? It would not be rare. It's a similar phenomenon if you take a taxi from in front of a stooshy hotel. But, it's something we ought to be able to check, both in terms of knowing and stopping.

The rate for the job is another bone of contention. It's notoriously difficult to get an idea of the rate for a job from many contractors, and those who deal with emergencies know that the crisis can drive the price higher--really to where the market will bear, as we economists say. You are over a barrel if you have a leak in the middle of the night or you have flooding in your house. Where is "Joe the Plumber" when you really need him?

According to "McDonald's" story, he paid the equivalent of ₤140 (British pounds) for this little call out job. A quick check on the Internet shows that in London, you could easily pay between ₤40-140 (pounds) an hour (see one UK website) . So, our Bajan lad was paying something well over the going rate in Blighty. Again, this moniker for Barbados of "Little England" rings hollow. The place is bigger than the old Motherland, when it comes to pricing. Maybe, we can persuade one of the UK airlines to always bring a few plumbers for free holidays in Barbados, give out their names and let them work in the local market. Maybe that will drive prices down.

"McDonald" admits that the average Bajan is reluctant to pursue incidents which they deem to be "unfair", mostly because of their placid nature. Like everything else this is a generalization because one only has to listen to the daily call-in programs to hear the Bajans who do not fit the "placid" mould.

It's hard to know how to get justice done in situations like this but I'm sure we'll figure out a way.

2 comments:

Sue said...

Not just your address but the colour of your skin and/or your accent. If my husband -Bajan- phones for an estimate, he gets one price, if I phone -English- I get another, always higher price, if I query the difference I get the ummmmm errr! I've been told the price has gone up, ummmm errrrrrrr etc etc this has happened on several occasions when we've unknown to each other been pricing jobs up to be done, and we certainly don't live in a well known 'named' area.
Even locally with people my husband has known all his life, we've had outrageous quotes for small jobs for clearing ground etc, when I've laughed and said why would I pay you more than I earn?, I've been met with astonishment and sometimes anger, its very sad that in this day and age some people still assume that if you're originally from another country or your skin is a different colour you must have money (and be stupid!)

iriebrown said...

This happens everywhere unfortunately, it's the same in Spain. I've just read a comment on the Nation online about building contractors and someone was suggesting starting a website for contractors that did a good job, or plumbers, or any company that treated you well. Hence people could log on then choose from the ones recommended.

Not a bad idea. It would soon put a few out of work or put their prices more in line with others.