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Legislators, the first order of business needs to be WorkSafeNB

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By: Louis-Philippe Gauthier

With the 59th legislative assembly convening under the auspices of a minority government, new and returning members of the assembly will face a level of scrutiny normally reserved for cabinet members when they cast their vote on policy decisions. Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of all parties need to get ready, the sun is about to shine a bright light on your legislative priorities.

WorkSafeNB will shortly announce the 2019 workers’ compensation rates. They will reflect the following: benefit costs are out of control, the accident fund continues to shrink and unfunded liabilities have reached crisis level. If nothing is done in the first sitting of this new legislature, the impacts on injured workers and businesses alike might be measured in decades instead of years.
MLAs, I’m sorry to break it to you this way. If legislation is not brought in to fix this now, the damage to the workers’ compensation system is on you.

A past president of the United States summed up the current political landscape in his country with this statement. "One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don't share a common baseline of facts.” Unfortunately, the sentiment of this quote can be applied to the discourse held by some groups and individuals on the recent instability of the workers’ compensation system.

You would be well served to arm yourselves with facts. Familiarize yourselves with the Meredith Principles, they are the foundation of the workers’ compensation system and clearly lay out WorkSafeNB is not a crown corporation like the others. Ask for a briefing from the new WorkSafeNB CEO and meet with the board of directors. Ask for a briefing from officials at the Labour, Employment and Population Growth department. Read the first part of the auditor general’s value for money audit, the second part is coming soon. Most importantly, review the twenty-eight recommendations from the independent taskforce.

Let’s get to the brass tacks of what you are likely hear from some groups who advocate for the status quo on the workers’ compensation system.

Some will tell you businesses are only concerned with keeping the rates low. What they won’t tell you is business owners care about the well-being of their employees. Business owners want their employees to be safe and if a workplace accident happens, they want their employees to receive the benefits they are entitled to. Business owners want their money to be well-managed and they want it spent on work related injuries. Nothing more, nothing less.

Some will tell you the business community conveys doom and gloom and cries that the sky is falling.  What they won’t tell you, and won’t tell the workers, is that once the costs of the workers’ compensation system pass a certain point, current benefits will need to be reviewed.

Some will tell you that the path to reducing benefit costs is through worker safety. What they won’t tell you is that the recent skyrocketing benefit costs have, in fact, nothing to do with an increase in workplace injuries and everything to do with a system that is out of control since 2015.

Some will tell you not to implement the recommendations of the independent taskforce, that the changes to the appeals tribunal are not needed. Review the facts and they will clearly show that the authority and independence of the board of directors needs to be restored.

Fixing the workers’ compensation system is an opportunity for you to collaborate for the good of the whole province. The business community is watching. The ball is in your court.

This post is the original text as published in the Telegraph-Journal on October 7, 2018