B.C. busi­ness groups cry foul in WBC re­view

The Prince George Citizen - - Local - Rob SHAW

VIC­TO­RIA — The busi­ness com­mu­nity has re­signed en masse from a re­view of B.C.’s work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion sys­tem, say­ing the gov­ern­ment-ap­pointed re­viewer is re­gur­gi­tat­ing rec­om­men­da­tions made a decade ago for the B.C. Fed­er­a­tion of Labour.

A group of 46 as­so­ci­a­tions rep­re­sent­ing the bulk of the busi­ness sec­tor – in­clud­ing the B.C. Busi­ness Coun­cil, the Greater Van­cou­ver Board of Trade, the Tourism In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion of B.C. and the B.C. Coun­cil of For­est In­dus­tries and Restau­rants Canada – an­nounced their im­me­di­ate pull­out from a re­view into the rights of in­jured work­ers, how much com­pen­sa­tion they get and the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of em­ploy­ers. The re­view is headed by re­tired labour lawyer Janet Pat­ter­son.

“When you un­der­take a re­view in this area, it has got to be done en­sur­ing it’s a fair in­de­pen­dent re­view that is go­ing to strike an ap­pro­pri­ate bal­ance,” said Chris Gard­ner, pres­i­dent of the In­de­pen­dent Con­trac­tors and Busi­nesses As­so­ci­a­tion of B.C., one of the 46 groups that quit the process.

“The con­cern is Janet Pat­ter­son is bi­ased in how she ap­proaches this re­view and the fo­cus will be on fairly sig­nif­i­cant and dra­matic whole­sale changes in WorkSafeBC.”

The busi­ness groups that with­drew in­clude as­so­ci­a­tions rep­re­sent­ing small busi­nesses, agri­cul­ture, se­niors’ care providers, con­struc­tion, min­ing, en­gi­neer­ing, hotels, restau­rants, road builders, home builders, man­u­fac­tur­ing, trucking and roof­ing com­pa­nies.

Ul­ti­mately, em­ploy­ers fear changes to work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion could in­crease their costs. WorkSafeBC is funded by pre­mi­ums paid by em­ploy­ers.

How­ever, unions say WorkSafeBC has a siz­able sur­plus and all that is be­ing sought is a re­bal­anc­ing of the sys­tem to bet­ter help in­jured work­ers and their fam­i­lies.

The busi­ness groups say Pat­ter­son abruptly added sup­ple­men­tary “se­lected is­sues” to the re­view on Aug. 6. Pat­ter­son wrote that the top­ics came up dur­ing months of public con­sul­ta­tion.

But the se­lected is­sues also mir­rored al­most all of the 24 rec­om­men­da­tions Pat­ter­son made in a 2009 re­port about work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion she co-wrote for the B.C. Fed­er­a­tion of Labour.

Some of the se­lected is­sues in­cluded: En­trench­ing a pol­icy of com­pen­sa­tion re­gard­less of who is at fault, al­low­ing the WorkSafeBC board to re­open its de­ci­sions for re­view at any time, treat­ing com­pen­sa­tion for chronic pain like other dis­abil­i­ties, bas­ing wage ben­e­fits on 100 per cent of a per­son’s net earn­ings, cal­cu­lat­ing fu­ture lost earn­ings for an in­jury, and re­in­stat­ing “med­i­cal re­view pan­els” like those used in Al­berta and Wash­ing­ton state to pro­vide in­de­pen­dent med­i­cal ex­ams.

“Those are all com­mon sense things,” said Laird Cronk, pres­i­dent of the B.C. Fed­er­a­tion of Labour. “If you took that (list) down the streets of Van­cou­ver and asked if those things made sense for in­jured work­ers and their fam­i­lies, I think most peo­ple would say they do.”

Labour Minister Harry Bains said the re­view will still be com­pleted be­cause it has al­ready gone through three rounds of public con­sul­ta­tion and has re­ceived writ­ten sub­mis­sions from groups in­clud­ing the busi­ness com­mu­nity.

“I’m reach­ing out to them and hope­fully will con­vince them to get en­gaged again be­cause their views are re­ally im­por­tant to me,” Bains said Thurs­day. “You can’t make good de­ci­sions if one im­por­tant part of your stake­hold­ers are not at the ta­ble.”

WorkSafeBC has a more than $2 bil­lion sur­plus, and Bains said the types of changes be­ing dis­cussed would not in­crease costs for em­ploy­ers. “The money is there,” he said. “My goal, again, is to not im­pact em­ploy­ers and their pre­mi­ums.”

The dis­agree­ment has a long his­tory and deep po­lit­i­cal un­der­tones.

Pat­ter­son’s 2009 re­port fo­cused on re­vers­ing changes to work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion made by the B.C. Lib­er­als in 2002.

The Lib­er­als had, in turn, over­hauled many of the NDP’s poli­cies from the 1990s in or­der to save money for busi­nesses, who tra­di­tion­ally sup­port the Lib­er­als. Now, the NDP is push­ing the sys­tem in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to help unions that tra­di­tion­ally sup­port New Democrats, the Op­po­si­tion Lib­er­als al­lege.

“What John Hor­gan and the NDP have cooked up is just an­other smoke and mir­rors re­view to make it look like they aren’t just go­ing to do what­ever their union donors want,” said Lib­eral critic John Martin.

BC’s Cham­ber of Com­merce said it was happy with how the NDP gov­ern­ment con­ducted a re­view of the Labour Re­la­tions Code (which cov­ers bargaining and how work­ers join unions) over the last year, which in­cluded three-per­son panel that rep­re­sented unions, em­ploy­ers and an ex­pe­ri­enced ar­bi­tra­tor.

“But re­gret­tably, when it comes to the cur­rent WorkSafeBC re­view, we are not see­ing that same bal­anced, fair, in­de­pen­dent ap­proach,” said Val Litwin, cham­ber CEO.

CP FILE PHOTO

Labour Minister Harry Bains de­fended the province’s re­view of the worker’s com­pen­sa­tion sys­tem.

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