New research from the Alberta Federation of Labour shows that Alberta's Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) is the only board in Canada that follows the "immoral" practice of paying bonuses to staff as an incentive to trim their caseloads.
The Alberta WCB also collects the lowest premiums in Canada from employers in dangerous industries, says the AFL.
For example, employers in Alberta's oil and natural gas exploration sector pay only 55ﾢ/$100 payroll in WCB premiums. Companies in the rest of Canada pay four times as much, at $2/$100 payroll.
Industrial construction companies in Alberta pay just $2.04/$100 payroll. In the rest of Canada, such companies pay more than double that, at $4.30/$100 payroll.
"The Alberta WCB's low premium rates and its immoral bonus system for case managers are two sides of the same coin," says AFL president Gil McGowan.
"After years of putting a priority on premium reduction, the Alberta WCB simply doesn't have the funds to fulfill its mandate of supporting and rehabilitating injured workers. Sadly, instead of increasing premium rates, the board has focused on finding new ways to deny claims and otherwise reduce pay-outs. This perverse and despicable bonus system is the pinnacle of this process."
McGowan's comments came in response to recent revelations that the Alberta WCB has been paying bonuses - averaging $5,600 a year - to staff members who help the board meet its "corporate goal" of premium reduction.
A survey of other provinces conducted by the AFL revealed that no other Canadian WCBs give bonuses to their case managers for closing files or meeting "quotas."
The closest that any province came was Newfoundland which, a few years ago, tried to introduce a job description for its WCB case managers stating that one of their priorities would be to consider the "financial viability" of the board when making their decisions.
That clause in the job description was eventually eliminated after the union representing WCB workers raised strenuous objections on the grounds that it would make it difficult for their members to carry out their core responsibility - which is to provide benefits and support to injured workers based on the best medical advice, not on financial objectives or targets set by management.
"It's perhaps not surprising that Alberta is the only province that has this kind of perverse bonus system. We're also the only province where WCB employees are not represented by a union," says McGowan. "No union would ever have allowed this kind of system to be imposed. It puts WCB staff members in a horrible conflict-of-interest position."
McGowan says that the bonus system in Alberta literally adds insult to injury for injured workers.
He points out that Alberta has a much higher workplace fatality rate than the rest of Canada (5.9 per 100,000 workers compared with 4.2 per 100,000 workers in the rest of Canada) and that we have many more people working in dangerous occupations than other provinces (22 per cent of Albertans work in the four most dangerous industries versus about 15 per cent in other provinces).
"Given these realities, the Alberta WCB should be collecting more premiums and paying out more for benefits and rehabilitation than other provinces. The fact that they don't - and instead are constantly focused on premium reductions for employers - shows that the Alberta WCB's priorities are seriously confused."
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour (780) 218-9888