NMa fines window cleaners in The Hague for cartel activities
The Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) has imposed fines on ten window cleaners for having engaged in illegal cartel activities. In early 2006, they agreed to share the streets in a new development district in the Delft-The Hague area, determining who would do the window cleaning jobs in what streets. ‘With these fines, the NMa makes clear that sharing streets and districts is a completely unacceptable practice,’ says Henk Don, member of the Board of the NMa.
This practice has led to growing frustration among many consumers, as they are unable to switch window cleaners in case of dissatisfaction, for example. That is why the NMa has welcomed a plan of the Dutch Board of Craft Trades (HBA) to create a public register in which individual window cleaners can be entered upon application. Window cleaners must meet a number of important requirements before their names can be entered in this register, such as respecting consumers’ freedom of choice, being recognizable as window cleaning professionals, and being able to identify themselves when requested to do so. Mr. Don adds: ‘I hope that the HBA’s plan will result in the ‘unwritten rule’ of not recruiting any clients in the streets of other window cleaners becoming a thing of the past. It will help consumers make an informed choice about their window cleaners.’
However, it is obvious that such a register should not have any anticompetitive side-effects. The NMa will therefore discuss with HBA whether the requirements for entry in the register are objective, non-discriminatory, and clear in advance.
The fines, which are EUR 1,000 per window cleaner, reflect the limited scope of the violation: mostly small businesses with modest turnover rates are involved here. The investigation into these window cleaners was prompted by an investigation of the Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM) into tax fraud by the window cleaners, when it came across antitrust-related material. The OM passed this material on to the NMa, in part because of a ruling by the District Court of The Hague.
On January 1, 2013, the NMa will merge with the Netherlands Consumer Authority and the Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority of the Netherlands (OPTA), creating a new authority: The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM). This new authority aims to ensure that markets work in order to protect consumer interests. To this end, the ACM will focus on three main themes: consumer protection, industry-specific regulation, and competition oversight.