Employers across New Brunswick are reeling from yesterday’s WorkSafeNB announcement that the 2019 average employer premium will increase by a whopping 72 percent from 2018. The government’s misguided legislative changes to the workers’ compensation system in 2015 continue to result in significant, annual increases in employer premiums for New Brunswick businesses.
The WorkSafeNB system is still broken and needs to be fixed immediately.
Despite six weeks of post-provincial election, political upheaval, a new government has finally been installed in New Brunswick. The province is in a somewhat tenuous minority government situation, yet, RCC is confident that the new government wants to correct the legislative errors that have created the ongoing, annual workers’ compensation rate shock.
RCC is a member of the Coalition of New Brunswick Employers, which is pushing the new government to signal the need to fix the workers’ compensation system in its upcoming throne speech.
The provincial government created this problem through misguided legislation that it passed in 2015. Since 2016, Retail Council of Canada (RCC) and most employers in the province have demanded that the provincial government admit its mistake, amend its legislation and restore balance to the province’s workers’ compensation system.
Government’s consistent refusal to make these legislative changes has resulted in the average workers’ compensation employer premiums increasing by 163 percent between 2016-2019. This despite a report from the Auditor General and another report from a government appointed taskforce of employers and workers that were highly critical of government decisions related to WorkSafeNB, the administrative performance of the organization and the 2015 legislative changes.
The province is not experiencing more accidents and benefit levels have not changed dramatically. However, lost time duration and hearing loss claims have increased. These claims are compounded by the 2015 legislative changes that gave the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal (WCAT) the power to not only overrule WorkSafeNB decisions but to interpret and nullify WorkSafeNB policy. WCAT in New Brunswick has more authority than is seen with appeals tribunals anywhere else in Canada. Unlike WorkSafeNB, WCAT does not have a mandate to consider the overall health of the workers’ compensation system and thus, the shortcomings of the current system have been exposed by WCAT decisions. WCAT rulings have changed how a compensable injury or disease is determined which has quickly increased immediate and future costs to the system and thus, to New Brunswick employers.
The system imbalance has also resulted in directives for WorkSafeNB to include non-compensable intervening conditions as acceptable reasons to continue an injured employee’s workers’ compensation benefits. This has effectively moved workers’ compensation in New Brunswick away from being an insurance program. It is now being managed more like a social program as it is covering non-work-related illnesses and driving up system costs.
Workers’ compensation is an insurance program that must follow strict rules regarding its balance sheet and thus, there is little that can be done without a commitment from government to make legislative change.
Retail Council of Canada (RCC) continues to work with the Coalition of New Brunswick Employers to oppose the increases and call for virtually all of the Task Force’s recommendations to be implemented. The most important recommendations are those that call for legislative change to the province’s Workers’ Compensation Act that would bring balance to the system. For balance to be achieved, policy making authority must be returned to WorkSafeNB and the unique power of WCAT needs to be curtailed.
The only task force recommendation that RCC does not support is the one to eliminate the unpaid 3-day waiting period after a claim is submitted, before the applicant can begin receiving compensation. As an insurance system, RCC feels that the 3-day waiting period is similar to a deductible and is effective in curbing nuisance and minor claims.
RCC and all members of the Coalition will be advocating for these changes with the new provincial government.
If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact: Jim Cormier, Director (Atlantic) at: [email protected] or 902-422-4144