Broken agreement divides Whitehorse chamber and labour groups

The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce has delivered two, sometimes-conflicting sets of recommendations to improve the Workers Compensation Health and…

The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce has delivered two, sometimes-conflicting sets of recommendations to improve the Workers Compensation Health and Safety Act.

After months of meetings and many compromises, labour representatives thought they had struck a compromise agreement with the business community on changes to the act.

But then the chamber went back on its word, said Yukon Federation of Labour executive director Douglas Rody.

“I thought we had a pretty good working relationship with the (Whitehorse) chamber until we got knifed in the back with this.”

It began when reps from four organizations — the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board and the Yukon Federation of Labour — teamed up to draft one set of recommended changes to the act.

After months of meetings, they came to agreement on 88 issues.

Or, at least they thought they did.

“I thought that what we had accomplished was nothing short of spectacular — that employer groups and labour would come to common agreement on 88 issues,” said Rody.

They drafted 73-pages of recommendations and all partners, including Whitehorse chamber president Rick Karp and chair Ed Sager, signed it.

The document clearly stated it was the “sole position” of all the organizations that signed on.

Then they handed it to the Workers’ Compensation Act review panel.

But hours later, the Whitehorse chamber, unbeknownst to some if not all of the other partners, submitted its own 31-page document on behalf of itself and large employer groups, like the Hougen Group, Yukon Energy and Northwestel.

The Whitehorse chamber’s alternate recommendations surprised some of the other stakeholders.

“We were shocked,” said Yukon Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board chair Craig Tuton.

“When I sign a document, I do it for all the valid reasons and I hope the other stakeholders did the same.”

And some of the recommendations in the Whitehorse chamber’s two submissions directly contradict each other.

Here are a few of the differences:

In submission No. 2, it suggests cutting WCB costs by slashing injured workers’ benefits from 75 per cent of gross earnings to 80 per cent of net earnings; in proposal No. 1, it had already agreed to cut costs by targeting over-payouts.

The chamber’s second submission proposes striking the word “compassion” from the act because “it is commonly understood in the business community that the WCB legislation has swung too far to the left.”

And it suggests “investigating” the idea of disbanding the Yukon’s Workers Compensation office and outsourcing the territory’s contracts to BC to save administration costs.

Also, a letter states the chamber’s second submission, on behalf of large employers, takes precedence over its first with the stakeholders group.

“Although we have signed the document from the stakeholders group it is not totally accurate that we have agreed on all of the 88 issues,” reads an e-mail from Karp addressed to the workers’ compensation act review panel chair Patrick Rouble.

Rody discovered the Whitehorse chamber made an alternate submission after checking the board’s website Tuesday — more than two weeks after the submissions were made.

“I’d heard rumours to the effect, but I didn’t want to believe them, so I kept checking the website.

“And then to discover that the Whitehorse chamber is basically pissing backwards on its own signature….

“It’s clear that this document was not drawn up in a couple of hours,” said Rody, brandishing a copy of the chamber’s second submission.

“So, all the time (the Whitehorse chamber was) sitting talking to us about reaching a position on the 88 issues, it was already planning on submitting a separate document.

“That’s not only dishonest, it’s sleazy.”

Submitting the two documents was the only way to balance the interests of labour and employers, said Karp.

“It sounds a bit contradictory, it’s true.”

Although the chamber signed the stakeholders’ submission, it never agreed on all the 88 issues.

“At the 11th hour the stakeholders got together and said we’d come to agreement on all 88 issues, we were a little surprised about that because there was at least one agreement we didn’t come to agreement on,” Karp added.

“The stakeholders’ group realized this and knew this.”

So why did the chamber sign the stakeholders’ document if it didn’t agree with all the recommendations?

It was making the best of a bad situation, said Karp.

“So as not to affect all the issues we’d come to agreement on we signed the stakeholders’ document.

“We didn’t have time to say, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t agree on all these issues,’” said Karp.

Rouble says the chamber’s two submissions do “appear to be a bit inconsistent.”

Although the panel will consider all submissions equally before drafting its proposed changes to the act, which will be passed in to Brad Cathers, the minister responsible for the board, by September 30.

“It is a bit of an unusual situation though,” Rouble added.

The panel received a total of six written submissions before the June 15 cut-off date.

They can be read online at www.wcbactreview.gov.yk.ca.

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