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Keeping the plumbers’ ear to the ground

Written by Eamonn Ryan

    • Membership in a professional organization is much more than ‘what’s in it for me’
    • PIRB and IOPSA aim to be involved in everything that have an impact on the plumbing industry
    • There is an element of public trust associated with a plumber being an IOPSA or PIRB member

Whether a plumber is registered with PIRB or is a member of IOPSA that membership for the plumber has a bigger significance than just being part of a club and getting benefits. According to IOPSA executive director, Brendan Reynolds, “it implies being a part of the industry as well as contributing in some way to the broader profession in some altruistic manner. That should be their first interest, as opposed to operating entirely as a disconnected individual.”

“Yet when I first speak to a plumber concerning joining, invariably their first question is ‘What’s in it for me?’ While there’s nothing inappropriate about such a question, it shouldn’t be one’s first motivation. The primary motivation should be – you’re a part of this incredible industry, so how can you, in some small or large way contribute to the wellbeing of that entire industry? That way, we constantly uplift our entire industry,” he added.

There are other plumbing organisations that represent niches within the industry, such as Women in Plumbing or Plumbers Business Forum which have slightly different mandates in terms of improving representation and transformation, and Reynolds says membership of these is entirely in keeping with simultaneous membership of IOPSA and PIRB.

“IOPSA aims to be involved in everything that has an impact on the plumbing industry, to the end that our members’ voices are heard in everything and anything that has to do with plumbing. We’re represented on various types of educational platforms with the Department of Higher Education, for instance, QCTO (Quality Council for Trades and Occupations) and many more. There is a lot that we do which plumbers don’t often see.

“Occasionally, some government organisations will implement a strategic change of direction while failing to adequately consult a business, or in our case, with the artisans. The plumbing professional needs to be aware of such cases to ensure that the artisan’s voice is heard – and so as to get standards improved. We’re involved with the Department of Basic Education relating to high schools, the Departments of Trade, Industry and Competition, as well as Labour, and Public Works. We’re similarly involved with the Water Institute and Water Research Commission, Department of Water and Sanitation and municipalities – in fact everyone involved with plumbing. It takes substantial resources to cover all this. It involves attending meetings, writing to various officials and making submissions, keeping an eye on the Government Gazettes.

“For instance, a body was recently established in charge of artisan development, the National Artisan Development Board, with no representation on it by even a single artisan from any trade. We are ensuring things like that cannot occur,” says Reynolds.

“Then there is the element of public trust associated with a plumber being an IOPSA and/or PIRB member. They are organisations that endorse the member and offer a dispute resolution mechanism for the consumer.

“Almost every plumber brands themselves with the same ‘vanilla’ marketing claims, and in the view of the consumer, the only way to differentiate one from another is based on the professional representation which offers reliability and accountability.”

While looking after the interests of plumbers, IOPSA and PIRB are also cognisant of their collective power to bring material benefits to plumbers, says Reynolds. They recognise that the members would like some material advantages for their membership fees, and Reynolds is confident that members potentially get far more back than they pay in fees – if they use all those benefits. “IOPSA offers a lot of members’ benefits. One of the most important is the ‘Find a Plumber’ site on, with between 4 000 and 7 000 people every month clicking on an IOPSA member’s details while looking for a plumber. That constitutes real work for our members.

“Furthermore, we also place young apprentices with our members through a number of different schemes which pays the apprentices’ salaries. The youth are on an official apprenticeship and all the plumbing firm has to do is provide an appropriate learning experience – a benefit that is worth potentially R48 000 a year to an IOPSA member. We would love to place more apprentices, as we have no difficulty finding suitable applicants and finding funding for the projects – it’s a question of having enough work placements for them with plumbing firms willing to make the effort to take them on, manage them and keep them busy,” Reynolds added.

IOPSA has an occupational health and safety (OHS) consultant, Chris Coetzee, available to its members who can offer advice and guidance as well as a free OHS file. IOPSA will soon offer a full in-house OHS course which takes the business owner from knowing virtually nothing of the subject to being able to run their business according to the OHS regulations. This course is free to IOPSA members and is normally valued at R15 000, explains Reynolds.

IOPSA similarly has a legal expert with whom the first consultation is free.

“Then there are various discounts we have organised with plumbing stores such as Builders’ Warehouse, and other providers such as Tiger Wheel and Tyre.

“These accumulated benefits, if all used, in real financial value far exceed the annual membership fee paid to us,” says Reynolds, “and that excludes the less tangible benefits of trust and looking out for the regulatory interests of the plumber, as well as sourcing new work through the Find a Plumber site.

“If a business is an IOPSA member and takes advantage of all the benefits, they can do extremely well out of it. Yet there are many firms which pay their membership fee, but don’t take full advantage and yet still see the advantage of being a member.”


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