Following months of strong advocacy from the Coalition of New Brunswick Employers (RCC is a member of the Coalition), New Brunswick’s Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour announced on Friday that it will establish a task force to examine the province’s workers’ compensation system. Furthermore, the Minister has asked the Auditor General to conduct an independent, value for money audit of WorkSafeNB.
RCC is pleased that the government has recognized the need for these actions to occur. Inadequacies in the province’s Workers’ Compensation Act were uncovered in 2015 with the creation of the province’s Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal. The changes made in 2015 resulted in a thirty-three percent average increase in employer assessment rates for 2017. Earlier this year, WorkSafeNB stated that additional increases to employer rates will likely occur in 2018. The imbalance in the province’s workers’ compensation system has led some employers to announce that the rate increases will force them to reduce staff / staff hours.
The task force will consist of workers and employers while being chaired by a neutral party from out of province. The task force will examine WorkSafeNB’s current financial situation, the governing legislation and the overall objectives and effectiveness of the workers’ compensation system. A discussion paper will be prepared to detail the current situation and seek stakeholder input on how to improve the sustainability and transparency of the system going forward.
While the task force and the independent audit are underway, the Minister has requested that WorkSafeNB be mindful of this work while engaging in any rate setting processes.
After years of being partners in a New Brunswick workers’ compensation system that was fully funded, had 6 consecutive years of declining rates, and was seen as a model for the rest of the country, it was deeply concerning to see the 33% average increase for 2017 occur without consultation or notification.
The inadequacies in the province’s Workers’ Compensation Act allowed the independent Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal (WCAT) too much power to make precedent setting decisions in overruling WorkSafeNB decisions. WCAT does not have a mandate to consider the overall health of the workers’ compensation system and thus, overruling WorkSafeNB decisions quickly increased immediate and future costs to the system. Further troubling was the realization that there was little in the Act to prevent WCAT decisions from being retroactive.
Workers’ compensation is an insurance program that must follow strict rules regarding its balance sheet and thus, there was nothing that employers could do to reverse the rate increase for 2017. Instead, RCC worked with the Coalition and WorkSafeNB to successfully push the New Brunswick government to pass legislation in December 2016 that amended the Workers’ Compensation Act and provide some much-needed relief to employers. Friday’s announcement of an independent audit and the creation of a task force will hopefully create positive change by providing additional fairness and balance to the province’s workers’ compensation system.
The government is hopeful that the work of the task force and the audit will be completed in 2018. Industry is calling for the work to be completed by the Fall of 2017, in advance of WorkSafeNB setting employer assessment rates for 2018.
RCC will be sending a letter to the Minister supporting this plan but expressing the need for the work of the task force and the audit to be completed before rates are set in the Fall.
Should RCC members be interested in serving as a member of the Minister’s task force, please inform RCC asap. There is no guarantee that interested members will be chosen to serve on the task force.
RCC will continue to advocate on behalf of members for a workers’ compensation system in New Brunswick that is fair with predictable, affordable and with sustainable costs. Such a system is needed to protect employees, safeguard jobs and improve the business environment.