Businesses critical of WCB expansion

The Yukon Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board is spending $5.5 million to build an 11,000 square foot expansion of its headquarters. The WCB's board of directors says the expansion is sorely needed.

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board is spending $5.5 million to build an 11,000 square foot expansion of its headquarters.

The WCB’s board of directors says the expansion is sorely needed.

“We’ve been working on this plan for more than a year,” said chair Mark Pike. “The building is overcrowded to the point where offices designed for one person have three people sitting and working in them.

“We have had cases where people are having to work from home, simply because we’re struggling to find an adequate space,” Pike said.

This is more than simply inconvenient for workers – it also raises serious privacy concerns for clients, especially when dealing with sensitive health-related issues, Pike said.

“In our world these days, health issues are very, very private matters. Any time a person is discussing the state of their health with one or more people in our office, you wouldn’t want that discussion overheard,” he said.

Plans for the expansion have been in the works for more than a year and the WCB consulted with its stakeholders about the expansion, said Pike.

The organization also completed a needs assessment study to help decide what it should do to address the space crunch.

“We looked at just about every option you could think of,” Pike said.

“We looked at the possibility of selling this building and buying another one. We looked at renting space that wouldn’t be attached to this building.”

The final decision will see the large expansion built directly onto the current headquarters at the corner 4th Avenue and Strickland Street, taking up part of the building’s existing parking lot.

Pike said the organization will be putting out a request for proposals soon, and construction should be finished this year.

The money to pay for it comes, like all WCB funds, from assessment rates paid by the territory’s employers.

That has the Yukon’s various business chambers upset. The heads of the Whitehorse and Yukon chambers of commerce, along with the Yukon Chamber of Mines, issued a joint press release criticizing the expansion.

Whitehorse Chamber president Rick Karp said he thinks the expansion is not a smart use of Yukon business dollars.

“The lack of consultation and communication with your primary client base on such a major expenditure is not acceptable,” Karp said.

While he’s pleased that the WCB has managed to reduce its assessment rates in recent years, he and the other chamber presidents are worried that an increase in space will mean an increase in staff and, eventually, an increase in rates.

The WCB currently employs 80 people, which Karp said is already too many. A regional Workplace B.C. office covering the same volume of claims has an average of 28 employees, Karp said.

But Scott McCloy, a spokesman for Workplace B.C., said their regional offices have widely varied staffing numbers, and that a regional office like the one in Kelowna, which serves as a back-up headquarters, has a staff of 80.

Pike said the comparison is unfair.

“We are in fact a head office, and we are charged with many, many responsibilities that a regional office isn’t charged with,” he said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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