Covid lockdown | Pleas for appliance repair and sale go unanswered so far

09 April 2020 - 09:33
Can you call a repair technician if your fridge breaks during lockdown?
Can you call a repair technician if your fridge breaks during lockdown?
Image: 123RF/Jackf

What happens if your fridge or washing machine packs up during lockdown? If you can’t fix it yourself, you’re stuck, because the Disaster Management Act regulations do not include the sale or repair of domestic appliances among essential goods and services.

Karen Voogt, a Joburg mother spending lockdown with a family of six, including three children under 10, told TimesLIVE this week that her 11-year-old washing machine had broken.

“I know it’s a relatively small problem when there’s a deadly virus ruling the world,” she said. “But what now?”

Why not force people to get an affidavit at the police station before being allowed to purchase an appliance online and then get a drop-off at their gate with no contact, she asked.

She’s not the only frustrated consumer to think of this.

“I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for us,” said Margaret Hirsch, executive director of national domestic appliance retailer Hirsch’s. “We’ve had customers phoning constantly, asking for old appliances to be repaired and new appliances to be delivered - but our hands are tied.”

On March 25, the day before lockdown started, Mark Saunders of the SA Domestic Appliance Association (Sada) sent the department of trade, industry and competition an industry appeal for classification under the government’s list of essential goods and services.

“Given that consumers will now be required to remain at home for a minimum period of 21 days, it's fair that they should have the appliances they require to sustain their challenging conditions at home over the coming weeks,” wrote Saunders.

“The repair and servicing of domestic appliances is essential, as would be the case with geysers, air conditioners, alarm systems, pool filters, electric gates and other electrically operated systems found in many thousands of homes.

“We deem it imperative that technicians be permitted to travel to homes to see to the repair and maintenance of appliances. This would prevent additional hardship being experienced in homes, as well as avoiding a backlog of work to be completed after the lockdown is lifted.”

Saunders pointed out that despite the strict lockdown conditions in several European countries, appliance servicing was still permitted and appliance sales were still allowed in Italy.

He has yet to get a response to his appeal.

Tension is also mounting between specialist appliance retailers and supermarkets that also sell “hard goods” including appliances, given that the latter remain open to trade.

“While the supermarkets are expressly prohibited from selling electrical goods, and most of them adhere to the ruling, I can tell you that many of them allow any product type to be sold through their cash registers,” said Saunders.

This week Makro advertised “cooking basics” including gas camping stoves. Asked about this, Massmart’s group corporate affairs executive Brian Leroni said the regulations are not definitive with regard to hard goods.

“We have adopted a very narrow definition in order to support government’s social distancing objectives. A narrow view might, for example, include a kettle and a two-plate cooker, but exclude irons, fryers, microwaves, blenders, electric beaters, etc,” he said.

Cooking fuels such as gas and paraffin are identified in the regulations as essential goods. “The question is: does this open the sale of, for example, paraffin cookers?” asked Leroni.

Massmart had “severely limited” the sale of hard goods and had either cordoned off all non-essentials aisles and/or wrapped chevron tape around the fixtures where physical demarcation wasn’t possible, said Leroni.

“But some of our competitors, such as Checkers, appear to be trading all hard goods in their stores,” he added.

”It also appears that while the large, established appliance repair operations have closed down, some smaller operators are 'making a plan'.”

A Cape Town woman admitted to TimesLIVE that she pretended that she needed to keep insulin in the fridge for her diabetic son in order to get an appliance repairer to come out to her home last week.

When TimesLIVE asked the technician why he was operating under lockdown, he said he had a permit - “but only for fridges, washing machines and stoves”.

His wife later clarified that he’d obtained an affidavit from the police in order to carry out that essential repair. “We only did that one job. We know we are not classified as essential services,” she said.