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Opinion: WorkSafeNB and the bottom of the barrel

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By Louis-Philippe Gauthier

For the last year and a half, concerns with the workers’ compensation system has been a top of mind issue for independent businesses in New Brunswick. Members of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) have told us they are very concerned about rising rates, and frustrated with the service offered by WorkSafeNB.

Workers’ compensation systems are not supposed to experience wild upward swings in benefit costs. Rates are not supposed to jump 166 per cent in three years without many people suffering severe injuries.

Has the rate of severe and external injuries suddenly increased? No. In fact, the rate been going down steadily for the last 15 years. Has the rate of bruises and contusions suddenly increased in the last two years? No, it has not. Private sector workplaces are, on the whole, much safer today than they have ever been in history.

“We have worked very hard to make sure that we have safe workers and then this happens anyway.”

“My business has not had a lost time injury for a long time and nothing major in its total history yet I get penalized.”

“When I saw my over $12,000 in worksafe fees and last year $6,000 made me wonder what are we really paying for?”

“Safety is a core value in most companies now, why are we paying more?” 

These are just a few of the comments from our members in CFIB’s most recent survey on the workers’ compensation system in New Brunswick.

Business owners are understandably frustrated, and some are outright angry with this whole situation. Businesses are not able to lower the new costs by making workplaces safer because these costs have little to do with increases in workplace injuries and everything to do with a system that is out of control.

You could literally cover every employee from head to toe in bubble wrap made of indestructible material and costs would still go up. That’s how imbalanced the system has become. That’s how unfair the system is to employers.

Some argue the only thing businesses care about is keeping the rates low. Not true. Businesses want the system to be balanced, as it’s supposed to be. They want their money to be well-managed and they want it spent on work-related injuries. Nothing more, nothing less. Businesses owners care about the well-being of their employees and assuming otherwise simply demonstrates a lack of understanding of running a business.

Why should businesses accept paying more for a system where an injured worker stays on benefits longer for no apparent reason? How can anyone have faith in an insurance system meant to support injured workers when it’s being used to replace social and health services in some cases? What are companies supposed to think when the system they pay for feels like it’s fighting them every step of the way, making it more difficult to bring an injured employee back to work? Is this the environment we want to attract investment and support entrepreneurship in the province?

When the Workmen’s Compensation Act was introduced in 1918, employers agreed to fund a compensation system and share the liability; in return, injured workers receive benefits and forgo their right to sue. This requires keeping a delicate balance between costs and benefits to injured workers and that is supposed to be the exclusive domain of the board of the commission. Unfortunately, government made changes to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal in 2015 and effectively created a parallel workers’ compensation system in the province. Since then, the ripple effects of decisions made by the tribunal have had profound impacts on costs and on how the system functions.

With no end in sight to the increasing cost, New Brunswick is well on its way of becoming the province with the highest costs of benefits in Canada.

That’s yet another bottom of the barrel distinction we don’t need as a province.

This post is an adaptation from the original op-ed published in the Telegraph-Journal on June 22 2018.