Workers’ compensation review ready for the microscope

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Act review continues at a snail’s pace. After languishing with a panel for more than three years, the…

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Act review continues at a snail’s pace.

After languishing with a panel for more than three years, the review document is finally available for public scrutiny.

“It’s an analysis and discussion of the 88 different issues that have been brought forward to the act review panel, and an identification of options for addressing and hopefully resolving those issues,” said Southern Lakes MLA Patrick Rouble, chair of the three-person review panel.

“We’ve got governance issues, benefits-related issues, assessment issues, and the fourth category is the appeals process,” Rouble said last week.

“The workers’ compensation act is one of those pieces of legislation that affects almost everyone in the territory, directly or indirectly, as it applies to all employees and employers.”

The mandatory review process has taken longer than expected, he added.

“We can do it fast or we can do it right.

“We are a small panel, and we are faced with many more issues than we originally anticipated.

“We’re giving thorough examination and evaluation to these issues.”

The review offers a number of options for governance issues, such as board appointments, and assessment issues, such as rates for claims.

Options always include “no change to legislation.”

But most issues, like claims costs, have alternative solutions.

The board could “amend the legislation to reduce benefits so they are more consistent with other jurisdictions in Canada,” says the review.

The Yukon has “among the highest benefits package for injured workers” and compensates wage loss at 75 per cent of gross income, while every other Canadian jurisdiction uses a percentage of net income.

“One means of reducing claims costs is to reduce benefits,” says the review.

It proposes to compensate wages at 80 per cent of net income, with 10 per cent set aside for annuity, so that a “severely disabled worker” receives almost the equivalent of current take-home pay in the long term, while “short duration injuries” would receive reduced levels of compensation.

The workers’ compensation board authorized $10 million in benefits for 1,108 workplace injuries in 2004, down from $25 million in 2003.

Appeals issues like privacy policies are included in the review.

The Yukon Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act does not recognize the workers’ compensation board as a public body.

The act could be changed accordingly, says the review.

The review panel is now seeking public feedback for its work.

Four public meetings are planned in Whitehorse in March to discuss governance and assessment, benefits and appeals.

Three other public meetings are scheduled in May for Dawson City, Haines Junction and Watson Lake.

Written submissions are also encouraged.

The deadline for submissions is June 15, 2006.

The panel will continue its analysis then, and prepare recommendations for Brad Cathers, who took over as minister responsible for the Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board in November after Peter Jenkins was exorcised from cabinet.

Rouble first announced the review in December 2002, a month before a mandated review was required to begin.

It was delayed several times, for various reasons.

“When one member is away for a planned or unplanned absence, it prevents the panel from going forward with its work,” said Rouble.

“We’ve gotten consensus on each and every word of a 160-page document.

“It has been a good process to review, but unfortunately it has taken longer than expected.”

Continual delays were the product of a lack of political will or political direction, or both, said Mount Lorne MLA Steve Cardiff.

A discussion paper was released on schedule in 2003, he said.

But the review document should have been published in January 2004, said Cardiff.

“There was a big gap where nothing got done,” he said Friday.

“Nothing happened for a year.”

Jenkins wanted outside advice expert to help compile issues for the review, and eventually hired British Columbia expert Ralph McGinn, said Cardiff.

“All that was required was the minister to say, ‘Hey, get this thing moving; this is important, hire somebody.’”

Cathers took over the file in November 2005.

The Yukon Party’s last-minute attempt at working on the review is merely “window dressing,” said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.

“The lengthy delays in this process have guaranteed that all the hard decisions will be left to the next government,” said Mitchell, who previously sat on the compensation board executive.

“That was the plan all along and three-and-a-half years later we are nor further ahead,” Mitchell said in a release.

“People waiting for changes to the act are probably now looking at fall of 2007 before they will see any improvements.”

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