Ang Probinsyano party-list Rep. Ronnie Ong has taken up the cudgels for fitness club franchisees who have been hurting over the unreasonable charges being forced on them by the franchise holder despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ong went as for to say that Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez should order an investigation on the case of Inspire Brands Asia (IBA), owners of the Anytime Fitness franchise.
The solon said several franchisees had sought his help and complained to him that IBA hasn’t been given them enough room to recoup their losses stemming from the pandemic-triggered enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) when they had to temporarily cease operations.
The franchisees of Anytime Fitness told Ong that although IBA waived their fees in April at the height of the lockdown, it required them to pay 50 percent in May and 25 percent last June. In July, the franchiser again charged them 50 percent of their fees covering their franchise fee, technology fee, app fee, ad fund fee, and reciprocity fee.
IBA had been charging the franchisees an average of P250,000- P300,000 per month on fees before the pandemic, Ong learned. At the 50 percent fee rate, the franchisees would still have to cough up a monthly average of P125,000 to P150,000 which is way too much for fitness clubs that are only allowed to operate at 30 percent capacity.
Worse is the allegation that IBA is still demanding full franchise fee payment from businessmen who have signaled their intention to close down since they have been in the red for months.
“It is really revolting that we still see people trying to make life more difficult for others at a time when we are supposed to be helping each other. IBA is practically squeezing their franchisees dry without regard to their present financial woes,” the neophyte lawmaker said.
Ong also revealed that IBA is wholly foreign-owned, which raises questions on the legality of their operations in the Philippines.
“Many small business owners are barely making ends meet especially those who are into service related-businesses like fitness clubs and yet here’s a foreign-owned company trying to make it even more difficult for them,” he noted.
The party-list congressman said Lopez should compel IBA to amend their terms in order for the franchisees to recover some of their losses, and also waive payment for those who wish to shut down their operation.
“It doesn’t make sense that they are still being charged for the full franchise cost since the reason why they are shutting down is because there are broke,” he pointed out.
Ong said that as a matter of policy during this time of pandemic, the government should protect small entrepreneurs from oppressive business practices and provide them with all the support they need to survive.