Vision Group, a provider of ophthalmic services, has responded to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission concerns that the conduct of its subsidiary, Icon Laser (Aust) Pty Ltd, was anti-competitive, providing the ACCC with court enforceable undertakings to resolve the matter.
Icon owns and operates a number of ophthalmic consulting and surgical businesses, including the Central Queensland Eye Centre clinics located in Hervey Bay and Maryborough.
In July 2006, Icon entered into an independent contractor agreement with a particular ophthalmologist containing the terms and conditions of his employment. In later negotiating the settlement of a dispute between Icon and the ophthalmologist, a deed of release was entered into which included a clause that had the effect of restricting the ophthalmologists' ability to operate at a competing business, the Hervey Bay Surgical Centre, for a period of 12 months.
The ACCC considers that this clause of the deed had the purpose of restricting the supply of ophthalmic services by the ophthalmologist to Hervey Bay Surgical Centre patients. Therefore, the ACCC held concerns the clause was an exclusionary provision and that Icon's conduct was potentially in contravention of section 45 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 which prohibits anti-competitive agreements.
Vision Group acknowledged the ACCC's concerns and has provided court enforceable undertakings to the ACCC that:
- it has refrained from engaging in the potentially contravening conduct
- it will not in future, enter into any agreement that would restrict the supply of goods or services to particular persons or classes of persons in particular circumstances or on particular conditions in breach of section 45 of the Act, and
- it will implement a trade practices law compliance program for Vision Group employees and other persons involved in its business.
"These undertakings demonstrate that all businesses need to be aware of their obligations under the Act," ACCC Chairman, Mr Graeme Samuel, said today. "While restraint of trade clauses are relatively commonplace in certain employment contracts, businesses need to take care that they don't unduly impose restrictions in agreements generally which limit a competitor's ability to compete.
"This particular matter was also of concern as the conduct affected a regional area where it impacted upon a relatively small market which operates with only a few providers of services.
"This matter sends an important reminder to businesses in regional markets that they must comply with the Act. The ACCC is committed to protecting the interests of regional communities."