Dozens of employer associations in B.C., including many in the construction industry, have signed a submission outlining concerns over a review of the province’s Workers’ Compensation system which they feel has been rushed and vaguely defined.
“A system like Workers’ Compensation is integral to every business and every industry and WorkSafe has an excellent process for developing policy and regulation,” said Fiona Famulak, president of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA), which signed the submission. “As is the case in every organization, there is always room to improve. We are not opposed to the review. Our concerns revolve around the process. Any review around a system as fundamental to business as WorkSafe needs to be clearly defined and give time for consultation.”
Famulak explained that the terms of reference for the review are vague and open to interpretation.
According to review documents the province stated its aim is to shift the system to become more “worker-centered.” It also specifically planned to look at “policies and practices that support injured workers’ return to work” and it would evaluate current policies and practices through “gender- and diversity-based analysis.” Case management of injured workers and “any potential amendments” to the Workers’ Compensation Act will also be assessed.
Famulak also expressed concern regarding the timing of the review which she feels is not long enough to adequately review such an integral system. The timeline also makes it impossible for all relevant materials to be reviewed, she noted.
The deadline for interested parties to provide input for the review was July 19, the same day that the Bogyo Report, one of two reports the province stated would inform the review, was publicly released. The other report for consideration in the review is “Restoring the Balance: A Worker-Centred Approach to Workers’ Compensation Policy” by Paul Petrie.
The Bogyo Report, titled “Balance. Stability. Improvement. Options for the Accident Fund”, was prepared by workers’ compensation researcher and consultant Terrance Bogyo.
“Employers did not have time to review that report,” said Famulak. “We don’t know what the recommendations of that report are at this point.”
Famulak added that the lack of clarity on the scope of the review and the compressed timeline has made it difficult to determine the potential impacts it could have on VRCA members. The review is being conducted by retired labour lawyer Janet Patterson, whose report is due to government by Sept. 30.
“We are urging Patterson to clearly define or scope and provide employers with the specific issues she wants to review and then give us reasonable time to provide perspective and input,” said Famulak.
One of the few issues Famulak said the review specifically will address is the duty to accommodate and if it should be imported to the Workers Compensation Act.
“The employer community is very clear that the duty should remain in human rights legislation and not be imported to avoid overlap, unnecessary complexity, extra time and extra cost,” said Famulak.
The VRCA and other construction organizations were assisted in their submission by the Council of Construction Associations (COCA) which represents 20 construction associations in workplace health and safety issues.
COCA president Dave Baspaly explained that his association is working with a cadre of stakeholders to try and make sure that it protects workers and employers as it tries to counter-balance, what it feels, is a direct move by the government to make substantial changes to WorkSafeBC.
“The main thing I’d like readers to know is that while WorkSafeBC is not perfect, it is doing a good job and is a fairly balanced institution in that it provides what is needed for workers, and what is needed for shareholders and employers,” said Baspaly. “You can put that up against any other jurisdiction in North America and we are reasonable in how we stack up.”
Baspaly believes the Bogyo Report could be used as a rationale to reduce the Accident Fund by $1.2 billion.
“The accident fund is designed to smooth out economic conditions and global instability,” said Baspaly. “We maintain a system that provides benefits to workers over time, and if you destabilize that you could have what happened to ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia).”
“We haven’t quite had an opportunity to unpack (Bogyo’s) report to challenge it or agree with it,” added Baspaly. “If this was sequenced right, we would all be engaged, we would all work to make sure to do what is best for workers and employers and come out with a system that wouldn’t look remarkably different. It is not broken and the assumption we are hearing, in many of the articles I am reading, is that certain factions believe the system is completely broken and that’s not the case.”
Baspaly urged the government to pause before making any radical decisions on redistributing WorkSafeBC money until the long-term stability of the institution is considered.
The submission is endorsed by 46 sectoral and cross-sectoral business organizations that collectively represent small, medium and large businesses in virtually all aspects of the B.C. economy.
Among the construction-related groups endorsing the submission are the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, Association of Consulting Engineering Companies – BC, BC Construction Association, BC Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association, Construction Labour Relations Association of BC, Northern Regional Construction Association, Canadian Home Builders’ Association of BC, Progressive Contractors Association, Southern Interior Construction Association, Vancouver Island Construction Association and the aforementioned VRCA and COCA.