While there have been heart-warming displays of generosity, with some companies offering discounted software subscriptions and free online learning courses, others have done the exact opposite.
Coronavirus has shown capitalism is alive and well, with some companies profiting from the pandemic.
Travel agents make a buck from cancellation fees
Countries have closed their borders, movement restrictions are in place all over the world and flights are being cancelled — but travel operators have kept their cancellation fees in place.
Even if an airline cancels the flight, Flight Centre’s $300 cancellation fee will still be applied, a spokesperson has confirmed.
Similarly, STA is charging its usual fee of $350 for any flights cancelled after May 31.
Customers for both companies can avoid the cancellation fee by rebooking their travel or have the value placed into credit to be used within 12 months.
International courier company DHL has implemented an “emergency situation surcharge”, while on March 30, Australia Post increased international postage costs for parcels weighing more than 2kg. Despite fuel price drops, domestic eParcel and StarTrack Courier fuel surcharges of 2.4% were in place for March and April, dropping to 1.7% by May. A spokesperson for Australia Post said the fuel surcharges were “in accordance with fuel prices”.
Where are the supermarket specials?
If you haven’t been able to impulse buy a half-price chocolate bar at the checkout, you’re not alone: specials have disappeared from supermarket shelves as the conglomerates benefit from a spike in demand.
Woolworth confirmed it was unable to provide a large number of specials because of the high demand, while Coles has stopped sending out its weekly specials catalogue due to stock uncertainty.
Hike in disability care premiums
The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) has announced a temporary 10% increase to the price limit of some support services, aimed to cover the costs of sanitation and extra staff needed during the pandemic — but the value of NDIS plans have not been increased to account for these new costs, making some services less affordable.
Third-party platforms struggle to crack down on gouging
On third-party websites, loo paper has been selling for $200 a pack and hand sanitiser advertised for hundreds. Websites such as Amazon, eBay, Gumtree and Facebook marketplace have vowed to crack down on gouging, but Erin Turner, campaign director at Choice, told Crikey companies weren’t going far enough.
“We have concerns that policies to take down these ads are not as strong as they should be,” she said.
Petrol prices not passed on
Fuel retailers are making a hell of a lot more than their usual 10-15% profit margin: Global oil prices have hit 18-year lows thanks to both the coronavirus and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
But it’s taken a long time for the savings to be passed along, if at all — Sydney is still paying “inappropriate” fuel prices above $1.30 per litre, and regional areas have also been slow to pass on any savings.
What can we do about price gouging?
Health Minister Greg Hunt has used emergency powers under biosecurity laws to implement fines for price gouging for medical goods. People who sell face masks, gloves, gowns and hand sanitiser at a mark-up of 120% face a $63,000 fine.
But other industries face less scrutiny, Turner said. “There’s no legal protection for price gouging,” she said, adding that mapping price increases was not an easy task.
“There are businesses facing unusual and unprecedented costs … but some businesses are profiteering,” she said. As there are no direct reports of price fluctuations, Choice relies on consumer tip-offs to investigate profiteering.