Like most small businesses, Australian tradies have been left reeling by the pandemic, supply chain and labour shortages, and now, a slowing economy.
Construction is currently in the worst shape it's been in a decade, with conditions not seen since the Global Financial Crisis.
Rising interest rates and an industry in strife has damaged countless tradies who are not only being slugged with more costs to absorb from materials to road tolls, but the added insult of a lack of appreciation for the true value of their work.
While the average consumer might groan at the exorbitant fees charged by doctors and lawyers, they would never quibble with the prices they're being charged.
Imagine if a patient said, "this doctor is charging far too much for only 15 minutes' work. I could have just Googled it myself!"
Similar to their white collar counterparts, tradies have spent years perfecting their craft, enduring long periods of extremely low wages as apprentices. Despite this, they're still having to fork out for expensive tools and business expenses such as travel, insurance, and superannuation.
Although one in 10 will make $200,000, this doesn't account for their actual take home pay after expenses have been paid. Meanwhile the remaining nine in 10 are struggling to balance the books and earn enough to support themselves and their families.
A true breakdown of the cost of what tradies charge would include the sum of their experiences, the time they take to carefully research, source and obtain the cheapest and best materials for their clients, factoring in the cost of the specialist tools they're using before even counting the labour it takes to install, build, or make repairs.
While the cost of a part might cost mere dollars, a tradie would consider what would be the most suitable for the particular space or client. The tradie would then have to call up multiple wholesalers to find that part, order it, wait for it to come in and then drive to pick it up.
Something that might seem like a straightforward job requires hours of additional work that ultimately remains invisible to the customer, acknowledged and unappreciated.
Unlike the CEOs of big banks and large companies, tradies don't get the benefit of fat bonuses or inflated pay checks. Their weekly pay cheque is much more modest than widely believed.
When clients try to haggle the price down, tradies are forced to drop the standard of their work. Competition is fierce with questionably qualified workers on AirTasker and the like undercutting jobs that should in reality cost twice as much. To earn a living wage, tradies end up having to work faster which means the quality of their work suffers.
The consequences of this economic pressure are real and incredibly serious. In NSW alone, 11,000 complaints were made each year between 2019 and 2021 to NSW Fair Trading. What were consumers' top concerns?
Poor quality construction that included defective or incomplete work, followed by plumbing and solar issues. As tempting as they are, cheap fixes will always cost more in the long run. Like with any other profession, consumers should keep in mind that you generally get what you pay for.
A world without tradies means unsafe houses, defective buildings, higher energy costs due to poor building design, and countless annoyances that get in the way of allowing people to enjoy the full potential of their homes.
For tradies, accusations of overcharging will always exist, but that doesn't mean customers can't ask for one or more quotes to compare. Every business is now charging higher rates to keep up with the market.
Though many Aussies are doing it tough right now, it doesn't doesn't mean they can expect their hard working tradies to skimp on important work or absorb the cost increases that have been hitting industries across the board.
As long as we live in buildings with electricity and functioning plumbing, tradies will always be essential to our safety, our comfort, and our high standard of living. All they're asking for is an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.
- Amanda Rose is the founder of Small Business Women Australia.