Not mis­lead­ing, just com­mon sense

Labour Fed­er­a­tion push­ing for fair work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion sys­tem

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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