Board ‘disappointed’ with act review

The Workers’ Compensation Act review has ignored a vital joint submission from labour, business and Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health…

The Workers’ Compensation Act review has ignored a vital joint submission from labour, business and Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board reps, says the board’s president.

“I am disappointed because there’s a number of things that the stakeholders recommended and I don’t believe they were thoroughly addressed by the panel,” said Valerie Royle.

“I don’t see all of our points reflected in their decision to recommend something different.”

The joint submission was drafted by the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board and the Federation of Labour.

After months of meetings, the business and labour groups drafted recommended changes to the act.

The minister appointed the review panel — composed of worker advocate Mike Travill and employer rep Ivan Dechkoff — in 2003. It was charged with holding meetings, reviewing written submissions and recommending changes to the act.

The panel followed about half of the stakeholder group’s suggestions.

It missed some key ones, said Royle.

For example, the stakeholders recommended enshrining in law the principle that employers and injured workers have a duty to co-operate in getting back on the job.

“Employers must offer suitable work for employees coming back from injury and employees have to accept it if it’s suitable,” said Royle.

But the panel did not recommend return-to-work program be written into the legislation.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Royle.

Going back to work early shortens claim duration significantly, said Royle.

And the shorter the claim the less the injured worker costs the system.

Meanwhile, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce — which also collaborated on the stakeholder submission but then blindsided its partner groups a few days later by presenting a second submission on behalf of a large employer group — is tempering its criticism.

“It looks like a good document,” said chamber president Rick Karp on Wednesday.

“It moves us forward in a positive direction.”

But Karp also noted some problems.

One of its key recommendations, which targets the rates employers pay for workers’ compensation coverage, was challenged by Karp.

The panel proposed an incentive system, called an “experience rating,” that rewards safe, progressive employers and punishes lax ones.

So, employers with fewer injuries could pay as little as half of their industry’s average assessment rate, and employers with many injuries could pay as much as double.

Although Karp agrees with the idea to reward safe employers, using an incentive based on an experience rating is not the way to do it.

Experience ratings work in other parts of the country.

“But it’s a problem in the Yukon because of how small we are,” said Karp.

If small business has one bad injury then it would pay high rates for years under that system, he said.

“We’re so small that one injury, one death has a huge impact on the entire system.”

Business is very concerned about the cost of the system and duration of claims is a problem, he said.

Maintaining the Workers’ Compensation Board is expensive and the employers rates are “skyrocketing,” said Karp.

“For the little business I own, I pay $3.02 for every $100 of payroll.”

In Alberta it would be 76 cents. And in BC it would be 50 cents, said Karp.

The high rates put small businesses in jeopardy, and that’s a serious concern.

“The Yukon has the most generous benefits of anyone in Canada,” said Karp.

“Workers deserve benefits, of course, but they don’t necessarily deserve to have an income higher than they were making before they were injured and that’s possible in the Yukon.”

One of the recommendations suggests recalculating an injured worker’s wage loss compensation at 85 per cent of weekly net earnings.

(Currently, the Yukon calculates compensation as 75 per cent of gross earnings.)

That change would bring the Yukon in line with other jurisdictions, which base calculations on net income, according to the review document.

Karp agrees with that change.

He will be meeting with stakeholders over the next few weeks to further review the document.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Labour sees major problems with the document.

The panel review “has many flaws, is contradictory in areas and, for the most part, is not a document that I can support,” federation executive director Doug Rody said this week.

The panel’s recommendations are being reviewed by Brad Cathers, minister responsible for the compensation board.

“We’ve got it, now let’s see where we can go with it,” said Royle, who called the process the “never ending review.”

Changes to the legislation must be approved by Yukon’s legislature.