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Jobs vs safety - Mixed feelings on damaged-car repair sector

Published:Sunday | November 2, 2014 | 11:00 AM

Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter

The road Safety Council is siding with new-car dealers, who see the damaged-car trade as a public-safety issue, even while holding back on final judgement on the possible lifting of an import ban for commercial reasons.

But the premier school that trains auto repairers says it can provide the skills to make the vehicles roadworthy, even as it contemplates the potential for new jobs under a controlled damaged-car repair sector.

The National Road Safety Council's view is that jobs cannot be the overriding consideration, saying the risk of harm from defective vehicles must be weighed carefully.

The Trade Board Limited is now exploring the feasibility of reversing the import ban for damaged cars under a scenario where investors tap into the planned logistics hub for the repair, customisation and/or assembly of automobiles within a special economic zone for re-export.

The problem for some Jamaican interests is that the policy will not confine sale of the vehicles to overseas markets, but eventually contemplates the vehicles ending up for sale on Jamaica's used-car lots.

Chairman of the Automobile Dealers Association, Kent LaCroix, is on record as saying that reopening Jamaica's market to damaged-car imports would be a retrograde step that would "endanger the lives of our people", citing the safety issues that had led to the ban in the first place.

"I don't think it's well thought out and we, as an association, feel that there are enough cars available in Jamaica in the used- and new-car sectors, as well as repairable cars that we have," LaCroix commented to Sunday Business.

However, chairman of the Trade Board and head of the damaged-car task force, Berthan Hussey, has said that past issues were unlikely to arise as the sector would be operating under a new structure, with oversight.

Additionally, Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) says, if required, its resources will be available to the Trade Board for the development of standards for the repairs.

And the respected Jamaica-German Automotive School (JAGAS), says it can

supply the skills required by such a sector.

"If that sector is facilitated, there is certainly the skilled set of trained personnel available that can execute the repairs according to manufactures specifications," said JAGAS deputy manager, Kevin Baxter.

He said an SEZ for
car repair/assembly would also stimulate the job market, including the
support services around the auto sector.

"It's going
to call on a lot of skill sets to be employed because an assessment of
the vehicle will have to be done, so a loss adjuster will be needed,"
said Baxter.

"When it gets to repairs, structural
repairs will require a particular skill set, and then auto body workmen,
such as spray and mechanical workmen, will be needed. So, a number of
sectors can converge and benefit," he said.

JAGAS
trains about 50 persons yearly, Baxter said, and it also certifies
repairers at their job sites.

Importation of damaged
vehicles was suspended 10 years ago for dealers and six years ago for
individuals amid concerns that the vehicles were being brought into
Jamaica without proper documentation detailing the level of damage, that
the vehicles were the cause of accidents, and that buyers often ended
up with big repair bills to correct previously undisclosed
defects.

Vice-chairman of the National Road Safety
Council, Dr Lucien Jones, also shares the concern for public safety were
the ban to be lifted.

"Anything that is going to
possibly affect the safety on the roads has to be trumped by
consideration of safety," he said.

"If you are going
to import vehicles and put them back together here, either for local
consumption or export - even though the argument is that we are going to
create more jobs - if there is any possibility of our driving public
being exposed to substandard vehicles, then we say let us look at it
more carefully."

The BSJ says that agency currently
has no written standards to allow for the policing of car repairs, but
that it "stands ready as a resource available to the Trade Board" to
either draft standards or assist with the adaptation of international
standards to the sector.

"I see us being a resource
available to do things that are necessary, for example, when there is
work to the vehicle we might assess aspects (of the repairs); but it is
something that would evolve in that kind of way," said Junior Gordon,
acting director of the
BSJ.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com