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Balanced approach needed at WorkSafeNB

It seems that every time there is a change in government policy, the business lobby tells us that there will be layoffs and/or business closures. Ever notice that these doom and gloom predictions never seem to materialize.

Minimum wage goes up…the sky is falling
Improved CPP benefits for workers…the sky is falling
Federal fiscal reform to ensure business owners are paying their fair share… the sky is falling
An increase in WorksafeNB premiums…and you guessed it…the sky is falling

Now don’t get me wrong, I admire business owners who take a risk and invest to make their business ideas become a reality. Small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of our economy.

Workers also deserve a fair shake nonetheless:
-They should be paid a decent wage for their work, a wage that brings them above the poverty line.
-They deserve to retire in dignity after a lifetime of work.
-They most certainly deserve to work in a safe workplace and if they have the misfortune of getting hurt at work, they deserve to be adequately compensated.

When it comes to WorksafeNB, the problem is not that the premiums went up last year and are slated to increase again next year. The problem is that for the past 25 years, a balanced approach to the workers’ compensation system was lost. Workers’ compensation was characterized by decreasing employer premiums and sacrificing workers’ benefits. It was also characterized by not paying workers the compensation that existing legislation says that they are entitled to.

The WorkSafeNB Board of Directors started to rectify this situation as of late which led to a slight increase in premiums in 2017 to ensure that all liabilities are being covered. WorkSafeNB also recently announced another slight increase in premiums for 2018, bringing the average assessment rate to $1.70. This is still a far lower that the $2.25 average assessment rate being paid in 1992.  In the meantime, the cost of living continues to increase.

I can understand that the business community got used to this unbalanced approach, but its now time for that to change. This being said, it’s important for balance to be restored in a predictable way so employers can plan their costs over the long term.

I must say that I am disappointed with WorkSafeNB for recently bowing to pressure by employers. Although they have announced that the average assessment rate required to maintain the current system is $1.93, they have chosen to only raise the rate to $1.70. This increase will barely keep the system afloat and is characterized by cuts in administration. With these administrative cuts, will there be enough staff at WorkSafeNB to process claims in a timely manner? Will waiting times for injured workers’ claims increase?

Since most of the discussion lately is focused on keeping premiums low, we have not been talking about bringing benefits back to the level they were in 1992. Perhaps if assessment rates increased to their 1992 level, we could eliminate the three-days without pay that injured workers must suffer through. Most Canadian provinces have already eliminated their waiting period. New Brunswick is behind the times on this one.

Increasing assessment rates could have the positive impact of lowering workplace injuries. One side effect of the low assessment rate is that businesses have little incentive to invest in more preventative measures, some of which could be costly. If a business does a cost-risk assessment and the cost of the risk versus the fix is lower, it’s in their interest to go with the cheaper option. This needs to change. We need businesses acting proactively to limit injuries rather than simply seeing them as the cost of doing business.

Now getting back to my starting premise, contrary to what the business lobby may say, the sky is not falling and it is unlikely that there will be layoffs or business closures as a result of the increase in WorksafeNB assessment rates.

Like the boy who cried wolf, after crying wolf too many times, we’ll stop believing you!

Patrick Colford, President
New Brunswick Federation of Labour
9-150 Edmonton Avenue
Moncton, NB E1C 3B9

(506) 381-8969 (cell)