Plumbers in South Africa are at loggerheads, with two organisations facing off about the very legitimacy of the person you call in to fix your pipes or geyser.

The Inclusive Plumbing Association (IPA), which claims to have some 900 members, has raised the alarm over the hijacking of the technical standards, certification and skills requirement of the trade that is controlled by the Plumbing Industry Registration Board (PIRB), a non-statutory association.

IPA chairperson Geoff Snelling said the PIRB had somehow managed to get the SA Bureau of Standards (SABS) to include membership of PIRB, including its requirement that its members earn Continuous Professional Development (CPD) points to meet the technical standards and certification requirements required by all valid plumbers.

Snelling said this amounted to plumbers being coerced into becoming fee-paying members of the PIRB, including having to complete webinars and other professional learning materials at a fee from the PIRB to obtain their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points.

This meant that plumbers who were not in full standing with the PIRB, and who did not meet its CPD point requirements, were not legally allowed to sign off the installation of geysers, which was a main source of regular income for plumbers, he said.

In addition, the PIRB’s control of the industry certification had taken plumbing work out of the control of municipal authorities, said Snelling.

The IPA had staged a protest march to the SABS building in Cape Town in February to have these issues addressed, he said.

The SABS said in response to Business Report’s questions their standards development committee was aware of the issue.

The committee would direct the matter to the standards approval committee of the SABS for a resolution, the SABS said.
PIRB chairperson Lea Smith said the IPA was trying to destroy the PIRB’s long-standing efforts to “close the net on unqualified plumbers”.

Smith said that about 12 years ago municipalities exercised oversight over plumbing work, but this had fallen away, except in two municipalities: Cape Town and Durban.

Subsequently, to counteract a growing number of unqualified “bakkie plumbers”, a voluntary membership organisation, the Institute of Plumbing of SA, formed the PIRB to provide the industry with certification so that consumers could be certain a plumber was competent to do the work, said Smith.

He said the PIRB was registered with the SA Qualifications Authority, and was a non-profit organisation headed by a 10-member board.

He said the PIRB performed a range of other activities including facilitating the apprenticeships of some 500 people and working to introduce plumbing as a school subject.

Regarding the authority of municipalities, Smith said municipalities remained free to oversee certification between plumbers and the local government for work done.

Both Smith and Snelling said they had approached the opposing organisation to discuss the matter, and both said the other organisation refused to discuss it further with them, or to provide each other with information to take the matter forward.

On CPD points, Smith said the overall requirement was 50 hours of self development in a year, and the webinars and other paid material about which the IPA was complaining amounted to a very small proportion of other CPD work that could be done, with most of the other CPD work being able to be done for free.

Snelling said many plumbers learnt their trade through years of experience.

Plumbers often came from poor communities and did not have highspeed internet access and means to pay for webinars and other materials prescribed for CPD points.

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