Competition Commission acts against unfair uniform price hikes
Schools are not to compel parents to purchase new/additional school uniform items for the purpose of clothes-rotation during the Covid-19 pandemic but should instead consider alternative interventions including permitting the wearing of civilian clothing by learners, on some days.
This is according to the Competition Commission circular on the procurement of school uniform and other learning-related goods and services.
The circular, a collaboration with the Department of Basic Education, is aimed at curbing anti-competitive procurement practices at schools. This follows a string of complaints received by the Competition Commission, since 2010, over high prices of school uniforms and anti-competitive procurement practices by schools.
“One of the common practices is where schools enter into exclusive, long-term supply agreements with specific pre-selected suppliers of school uniforms. These agreements are often entered into without any transparent competitive bidding processes. As a result, they substantially prevented and lessened competition,” the Competition Commission statement read.
With schools reopening from January 18 for independent schools and on January 27 for public schools, parents find themselves flocking in uniform stores in search of possible bargains.
According to the guidelines published in November last year, schools should ensure that their uniform is as generic as possible such that it is obtainable from more than one supplier.
“In the era of Covid-19, the Commission received complaints related to requirements by schools for learners to purchase school-branded or brand-specific Covid-19-related items - including face-masks, hand sanitisers, technological gadgets for e-learning purposes and other items,” the Commission said.
The guidelines state that exclusivity should be limited to items that the schools regard as necessary to obtain from pre-selected suppliers.
“Schools should follow a competitive bidding process when appointing suppliers for school uniform and learning-related items.
“Supplier agreements should be of limited duration, and not for excessively long periods, and schools must not compel parents to purchase new/additional school uniform items for the purposes of clothes-rotation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, schools should consider alternative interventions, including permitting the wearing of civilian clothing by learners, on some days.”
The Commission said in cases where there is non-compliance with Competition Act and the School Uniform Guidelines, the Commission will take appropriate action, in terms of its enabling statutes. It said there was a huge concern in relation to bringing down the cost of learning-related items.
To ensure that schools adhere to this circular, the Competition Commission plans to partner with School Governing Bodies across the nation through the Federation of Governing Bodies of South Africa (“FEDSAS”) and the Independent Schools of Southern Africa (ISASA), representing public and private schools.