Wednesday, August 22, 2007
In the case of Funeral Celebrants & Dally Messenger III, the ACCC supresses fair trading
For Immediate Release
Graham Samuel, Chairman of the ACCC gloats in The Age of 22nd August 2007 over the ACCC stopping funeral celebrants being paid a fair return for the work they do.
Funeral homes charge whatever they like. Some charge huge service fees. The suffering bereaved usually don't argue about the costs involved. However, when it comes to the real value of a funeral - respecting and celebrating the life of the deceased - the funeral director usually places this important responsibility with an independent celebrant. Either a religious practitioner supported by a stipend or an independent civil funeral celebrant not in receipt of other income.
Funeral homes thrive on the outstanding services provided by talented, hard working independent funeral celebrants. They are the people who spend hours interviewing the bereaved, preparing eulogies, orchestrating music and memorabilia and delivering beautiful and heartfelt services assisting the bereaved come to terms with their loss while celebrating the life of the departed. Few realise it's not the funeral home providing this all important service, but independent fee for service, celebrants.
The real stinger is the amount celebrants receive for their hours of work, often 10 to 30 hours at very short notice, is determined entirely by the funeral home - not by the celebrant. Funeral directors across Australia decide what they pay largely based on donations given to clergy who receive other income unlike celebrants.
In Samuel's article he cites Dally Messenger and the College of Celebrancy as parties to an attempt to have funeral celebrants paid a fee of $440 per service by funeral directors. He and his ACCC saw this as a clear case of price fixing. He admits ACCC enquiries found around half this amount was actually being paid to celebrants.
Samuel ignores the real story behind this miserable episode in the ACCC's history. He, his officers, lawyers and the Court failed to examine any of the material provided by Messenger supporting the fact funeral directors, not celebrants, fix the fee paid. He and the ACCC saw the initiative only in terms of an attempt to fix a tiny proportion of the funeral homes' overall fee for service. Not in terms of allowing the celebrant a reasonable fee for the service provided. It's the celebrant, not the funeral director, who actually interviews the bereaved, gathers information, resources, coordinates and delivers the all important funeral ceremony.
Life Member of the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants, Dally Messenger, was one of the first funeral and marriage celebrants in Australia in 1974. He asked funeral celebrants to request funeral directors' pay just $440 from the thousands they charge for each funeral simply to allow the celebrant to be reimbursed for 10 to 30 hours or more, professional work conducted over nights, days and weekends.
The people of Australia can rest easy. The ACCC has ensured the funeral industry may continue to charge whatever they like to consumers and underpay celebrants for doing the real work that gains funeral homes their reputations. Samuel reports Messenger and the College of Celebrancy were penalised $46,000 for daring to ask funeral directors to pay celebrants just $440 for their hours of hard work, talent and professionalism.
A huge win for funeral homes, a win for the ACCC which fails to make any impact on fuel price controls, or control of supermarket prices, but an enormous loss for funeral celebrants who must continue to accept 'cap in hand' whatever largesse the funeral home deign to give them. It is no surprise the majority of celebrants choose not to do funerals. Only the most dedicated, knowing bereaved families deserve fitting tributes for their departed, continue to provide this outstanding service for little return.
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