Not misleading, just common sense
Labour Federation pushing for fair workers’ compensation system
The president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL) has reiterated her concerns regarding the province’s workers’ compensation system.
Lana Payne maintains: “There is nothing misleading about comments that point out the inherent pressure in our workers’ compensation system for under-reporting to occur.”
Payne was responding to a news release issued by the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission.
“It’s a matter of common sense and a matter of what is being reported to us by experienced union leaders and activists,” she said.
Payne referred last week to the experience-rated system which rewards employers with refund cheques if they reduce their injury costs and if they meet minimum legislative or policy requirements such as a trained workplace, occupational, health and safety committee or representative.
In fact, while employer based assessment rates will not be reduced this coming year, as was pointed out by the Commission last week, many employers will still receive assessment refunds from the Commission.
Employers receive assessment refunds from the WHSCC under the PRIME system, which is divided into two phases: the Practice Incentive, a five per cent rebate, and the Experience Incentive, which can result in substantial additional refunds from the Commission to individual employers.
According to the 2007 annual report, in the years 2005, 2006 and 2007, employers in this province received $10.8 million in refunds in addition to their assessment rate reductions. The total cost of these refunds will likely increase as a result of the implementation of the Experience Incentive.
While the Commission may not have “specific evidence that injuries are going unreported”, it has been well informed of concerns that this type of system has on injury reporting,” the NLFL president said.
“Sometimes we just need to use common sense. Common sense tells us this system has problems.”
On the issue of Newfoundland and Labrador having the highest assessment rates in the country, what also needs to be pointed out is the province has among the lowest benefit rates in the country.
Employers have seen their assessment rates drop from $3.24 per $100 of payroll to $2.75 since 2002, and in addition received millions in refunds, while workers’ benefits have been stuck at among the lowest in Canada at 80 per cent of net pay to a maximum ceiling. The maximum compensable earnings for this year is capped at $50,379. Anyone making more than this and ends up on workers compen- sation loses dollar for dollar any earnings over this cap, and will as a result receive less than 80 per cent of their net pay.
Payne also reiterated her recent comments where she acknowledged strides have been made to improve health and safety in workplaces throughout the province. “I believe the improvements are related to workplace health and safety training and mandatory workplace committees.”
But just as importantly, this training coupled with increased enforcement by the Occupational Health and Safety Division of the provincial government has been part and parcel of any improvements in workplace health and safety. For example, these efforts have resulted in a significant increase in stop work orders being issued. The number of stop-work orders increased from 492 in 2006 to 600 in 2007 to 824 in 2008, according to statistics from government’s OH&S branch. In addition, the number of directives to employers issued by OH&S division has more than doubled from 2,906 in 2002 to 6,419 in 2007.
Payne said, “ The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL) will continue to push for a fair workers’ compensation system that is there for working people. The Federation will also continue to highlight our issues during consultation sessions with the Commission and employers with a goal of building a better workers’ compensation system.”
“One of our priorities is the issues around occupational disease. First and foremost, our goal is prevention, but we also need to establish an occupational disease fund so that victims of occupational disease can be fairly compensated.”
Statistics from the WHSCC indicate that 95 working people have died from occupational disease since 2002 in our province. “So while strides are being made with respect to safer workplaces, we still have quite a ways to go and in the meantime the labour movement will continue to be vigilant about improving health and safety.”
The Federation of Labour and its Workers Compensation Committee will continue to advocate for fairer benefit rates, including the need to eliminate the ceiling or cap on benefits, and highlight their concerns with PRIME (the experiencerated system), the deeming of workers which ends up lowering benefits, and the labourmarket re-entry and return-to-work programs.
“The labour movement’s goal is to first prevent injuries but also to ensure we have a workers’ compensation system that treats people fairly and is based on principles of economic justice, no-fault, collective liability and security of payment,” Payne concluded.