SGI officials 'got ahead of themselves' on proposed changes for autobody shops, minister says
Sweeping Sask. Government Insurance proposal could shutter dozens of rural family shops, say owners
Rural autobody shop owners plan to hold SGI Minister Joe Hargrave to his promise, and hope it will prevent their shops from closing.
At an autobody conference last month, Saskatchewan Government Insurance officials announced sweeping changes that will give shops one year to buy tens of thousands of dollars in new equipment. If they don't, they'll lose their SGI accreditation.
Hargrave has pledged to listen to their concerns before the proposed changes are made to their industry.
"I appreciate that, but we'll see what comes of it," said Ron Settler of Phoenix Auto Body in Lucky Lake, a village about 130 kilometres south of Saskatoon.
SGI is giving the province's 260 autobody shops until next April to meet new training and equipment requirements or lose their accreditation. Most shops rely on a share of SGI's 80,000 claims per year for the bulk of their income.
The new equipment includes tools and computer software used to work on newer vehicles.
Settler and other rural shop owners are outraged and say they can't afford the new equipment, and that the changes will kill dozens of rural family businesses. They say many of the tools are unnecessary, as they rarely see the complex, computerized vehicles taken to large urban shops.
SGI has pegged the minimum equipment cost at $40,000, but several shops say it will cost them more than $100,000.
On Wednesday, Hargrave said SGI officials "got a little ahead of themselves" and no final decisions have been made. The minister promised to listen to feedback from upcoming public forums.
"I encourage them to come out to these town hall meetings that they're going to have, voice their concerns, and no decision's been made as to anything," Hargrave said.
"There's a long ways off before we're making any decision.… I stand up for businesses in small-town Saskatchewan and urban Saskatchewan."
Hargrave and SGI officials say the industry is changing rapidly, and the priority is ensuring all vehicles are repaired safely.
But Settler, who has been in business 39 years, thinks the requirements go too far.
He compared the rules for rural body shops to those for rural health-care centres, which may do a good job with simple checkups and procedures, but no one expects them to perform organ transplants or complex surgeries, he said.
"It's like telling me 'You gotta have equipment to do brain surgery and you gotta be trained to do it. Just in case somebody walks in and needs brain surgery. That's what SGI is telling us," said Settler.
He says more than 1,000 residents rely on the services his shop provides. If he closes, they'll have to get their vehicles to Swift Current or Saskatoon.
Barb Genert of Sunny's Auto Body in Maple Creek, about 130 kilometres west of Swift Current, said rural owners are organizing themselves and fighting back. She said they may take their concerns directly to politicians in Regina.
"I'm not going to let up on it," she said.
"I'm fighting for all the rural communities, right now, I feel."