Are you getting exactly what you pay for?

May 30, 2010 at 2:29 am 1 comment

Almost every product you buy is sold by weight, volume, length, count or area. This means that when you buy a product, you might not be getting exactly what you think you’re paying for. Let’s take a tub of potato salad as an example: you purchase this from the deli at your local supermarket. Think you’re paying only for the potato salad? Ah, not exactly: you’re most likely paying for the weight of the plastic container too.

Australia has not had a national trade measurement system up to now and this has allowed retailers to “short-weight” or overcharge for items. But consumers should only be paying for the product and not the packaging. 109 years ago, it was written into the Australian Constitution that responsibility for weights and measures should be a national responsibility and, from July 1 2010, it will be.

A new national trade measurement system will come into effect on this date and will give the Commonwealth the responsibility for weights and measurements for the very first time. The system will cover measures used in trade that total more than AU$400 billion a year nationally, including exports, imports and over-the-counter sales such as meat and petrol. It will greatly reduce State compliance differences and bring Australia on an equal footing with its trading partners.

The new national system will replace 17 different pieces of State and Territory legislation and will make it simpler for businesses to operate within a uniform framework. The National Measurement Institute (which is a Division of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) will become the national regulator of trade measurement and will be responsible for a national compliance framework delivered by 100 inspectors. These inspectors will use highly accurate equipment to inspect fuel dispensers at service stations, scales at retail stores and packaged products at supermarkets.

Obviously, this is a great boon for consumers because it will mean whether you are buying petrol in Hobart or groceries in Cairns, Australians will be confident they are getting exactly what they are paying for. Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation and Industry, Richard Marles, was quoted in a Media Release on May 20 and highlighted how Australian consumers have been at a disadvantage:

Even small errors in weight or volume can add up significantly over time. If you lose one percent of a weekly $200 grocery shop because the scales are wrongly calibrated, over a year, you could be down more than $100“.

The new national system will require an education and awareness campaign, so the National Measurement Institute (NMI) has provided 10 Top Tips for Australian consumers:

  • make sure you have a clear view of the scale
  • check the scale shows zero weight – if it doesn’t, tell the trader
  • make sure the price/kg on the scale matches the advertised price/kg
  • check the total price on the scale is the price you’re charged at the checkout
  • make sure you get everything that you paid for
  • always read the label
  • pay only for the product, not the packaging
  • ensure the price is indicating $0.00 after you have picked up the nozzle and before you start filling your car’s fuel tank
  • check your receipt to ensure the prices match the advertised price
  • if you think you’ve been “short-weighted” or overcharged, notify the store manager and contact the Trade Measurement Section of the NMI if you think the short-weighting was intentional or happens regularly

Reform has been long overdue but finally the Australian consumer can shop with confidence. Thanks to Mark Communications for providing me with information about the National Measurement System and the photo accompanying this post.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Madeleine Kingston  |  May 31, 2010 at 7:41 am

    I recently attended the launch of National Trade Measurement celebrated appropriately on World Metrology Day at which The Hon Richard Marles MP and Parliamentary Secretary of Innovation and Industry made an impressive speech,.

    He acknowledged the work of his predecessor in the former Government, of Dr, Laurie Besley as Chief Metrologist at the NMI and of Dr. Valerie Villiere, General Manager Legal Metrology for their work to get to launching point.

    So many others from the NMI and their NZ counterparts have worked hard to ensure that a fairer system will be in place in terms of trade measurement offered in consumer protection.

    I am delighted that not merely harmonization but a high standard of trade measurement provision and monitoring will be guaranteed under the new legislation.

    It is also pleasing that training is to be offered to skill new recruits to the field who will work alongside those already familiar with trade measurement principles.

    Congratulations Mr. Marles, staff at the NMI, and counter-parts in New Zealand for providing higher levels of confidence to consumers in as their purchase goods.

    Good luck with implementation.



    Citizen Stakeholder Australia


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