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B.C. construction associations challenge timing, vagueness of WorkSafeBC review

Russell Hixson
B.C. construction associations challenge timing, vagueness of WorkSafeBC review

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.

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Darren Gregory Image Darren Gregory

““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.”

I’m sorry, but this statement couldn’t be further from the truth. In 2002, under what amounted to an elected dictatorship, compensation law and policy was intentionally stacked to favour employers. Many reports have validated that the changes made in 2002 have not only given a blessing to employers. The changes, in effect, pitted workers and employers in a legal game conducted by WorkSafeBC. Although I’m certain some injured and ill workers made it through the maze that is this self-serving system, many workers in BC did not.

This review is over-due. Long over-due. The general public isn’t fully aware of the reality that many workers in confrontation with injury in illness in BC, faced up until the change in Government, a quite callous system. There was no balance. Legislative changes in 2002 were put down for the very purpose they achieved.

Employers benefited and WorkSafe benefited, while many injured workers, due to the stress of engaging in the system, took their own lives. The past government and employers may wish to keep that reality buried under a rug. Myself and fellow advocates, who pushed for this review, simply will not allow that dirt to not now be exposed and cleaned up. Criminal law in Canada now makes it crystal clear who it is that is fully responsible, 100%, for safety in our B.C. workplaces today: I’ll refer you, BC employers, to the Westray Act.

I’m a former BC social service worker and former BC paramedic. I served in my home town as a First responder for 16 years. I’ve confronted this system now for 13 years, head-on. I’m one of Canada’s first responders who lost it all, and nearly my life. I survived my own suicide attempt-too many of my peers have not-including four first responders who perished to suicide in B.C. in 2018.

After years struggling and causing myself much further harm trying to stay working-I succumbed in 2015 to depression. Thankfully I survived. I know too many with stories like my own. We’ve all met up along the way. We’ve banded together and simply will not allow continued abuse of employers and WorkSafe.
I’m now permanently disabled. Google, “Sanctuary Trauma”. That is what WorkSafe law and policy has delivered to injured workers for years. A generation now is lost to chronic issues with improperly treated injuries and illness-people have died.

Permanently Disabled: That’s what I got for my service in B.C. Our Canada Pension Plan? Try surviving long with an income of $13, 000/year. Taxed no less on this deep-poverty level income. Things in B.C. are so bad now for our disabled population myself and others called on the United Nations to investigate-we stood up for all disabled citizens-injured, ill and employer-abandoned workers and our families included. Let that sink in: We needed to call on the United Nations to be rightly heard.The Special Rapporteur’s ‘End of Mission to Canada’ statement, speaks volumes.

I now quite comfortably share this, given the outcome of the Petrie Report. The outcomes of a generation’s worth of inept public policy speak for themselves to validate that we have a serious problem. This review will tackle one system. We intend to expose it all in all such systems.

“Restoring the Balance” is the perfect title for Mr. Petrie’s Report that supported our call for this review.


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