Cost savings sought in workers’ safety

Whitehorse businesses are lobbying Yukon politicians to study the effectiveness of the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board.

Whitehorse businesses are lobbying Yukon politicians to study the effectiveness of the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board.

Businesses have been rocked by rising workers’ compensation rates, wages and city taxes, said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

Now they want Yukon lawmakers to review their options.

“The business community came to us and said it’s time to do something because the cost of our WCB has gone up so much,” said Karp.

“It’s very difficult for some smaller businesses to cope with that.”

In response to the rising compensation rates, several businesses have forwarded a letter drafted by the chamber to Brad Cathers, the minister responsible for the workers’ compensation health and safety board.

It asks Cathers to consider the possibility of merging the Yukon board with the BC or Alberta board.

Many businesses added information to the chamber letter or drafted their own, added Karp.

Safety is paramount, but the cost of administering a Yukon compensation board is getting excessive, according to the chamber letter, which is dated February 8.

“My rates have doubled in the past three years and, although I realize that the subsidies have been removed, the cost of WCB to my businesses is far too high,” states the letter.

“In checking out the rates charged to my industry in other jurisdictions I found out that if I was doing business elsewhere in the country my rates would be much lower than they are in Yukon.

“I wonder if a town of 32,000 people in BC, Alberta, Manitoba or Ontario would have their own WCB.”

A recent study by a University of Toronto professor, Dr. Morley Gunderson, showed that Yukon’s WCB administration costs were 50 per cent higher than other jurisdictions and that the size of the Yukon business community does not justify an independent board in the territory, according to the letter.

Yukon politicians need to consider making legislative changes when the Workers’ Compensation Act is reviewed this year, states the letter.

“The WCB act review that is coming before the legislature this spring and the proposed changes to the legislation must balance the needs of employees with the needs of the business community,” states the letter.

“Changes must be made to make the WCB accountable, to reduce costs to the employer, to better the services to employers and injured workers, and to force an administrative review of all policies, procedures and budgeting practices with the involvement of the employer community.”

A few of the places employers see an opportunity to save money is the workers’ advocate office and the board’s communications campaign, said Karp.

“Our workers’ advocate office, which is paid for by the employers, costs us about $500,000, or over $26 per worker in Yukon,” he said.

“The average across the country is about $1.50 per worker, that’s an area where we can save a lot of money.

“Secondly, over at the WCB, there was $500,000 spent on a communications campaign last year to reduce workplace injuries, but workplace injuries remained the same.”

The chamber is very clear that it is not advocating for immediate change, but for a study of what change could look like, said Karp.

So far, the WCB’s response to higher rates has been a program to encourage the development of workplace safety practices, called CHOICES.

But, that program appears costly and is not considered voluntary by employers who don’t appear to be flocking to take advantage of it, said Karp.

“Basically CHOICES isn’t really a choice anymore, because what the president of the WCB has said is ‘perhaps those who don’t sign up for CHOICES will be audited.’”

So far, approximately 500 of the 2,000 eligible Yukon businesses have signed up for the CHOICES program, according to the WCB.

Those who missed last Friday’s deadline for the program now can’t join until 2009.

It offers cash rewards and rebates for 2008, said WBC president Valerie Royle last Friday.

The turnout was not as large as she had hoped, added Royle.

“I was hoping for a bigger uptake than I think we’re going to get.”

WCB inspectors will take the time to remind businesses who missed 2008’s program to prepare for next year, she added.

“When we do our inspections this summer, and we’re in an area where there’s someone who hasn’t signed up for CHOICES, we’re going to drop in and try to encourage them to get ready for next year and make sure they’ve got their requirements in place.”