Tory decision to re-open WCB cases is welcome but long overdue

After nearly two years of on-again, off-again support for a major review of old WCB cases, the Alberta government has finally agreed to open the books on previously rejected claims covering thousands of injured workers.

This is clearly a victory for all those workers who have been unfairly denied benefits. But given the government's track record on this issue, we can't assume it's a done deal. We need to watch them like hawks and make sure they don't try to wiggle out of the commitments they've made.

The provincial government first announced a sweeping package of reforms to the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) two years ago. Establishing a tribunal to review old cases was a major part of those reforms - but the idea was shelved by Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford as a result of intense lobbying from business.

Thanks to some very effective campaigning by injured workers and unions, the tribunal is a "go" again. But even though the government has finally agreed to do what it promised to do in the first place there's every reason to worry that the business community and reluctant members of the Tory cabinet will find other ways to make the tribunal a "toothless tiger."

Let's not forget that at one point, Dunford suggested the tribunal could make decisions without offering cash awards. The idea was that injured workers would get the satisfaction of knowing they were right, but they wouldn't get any real financial compensation for their injuries.

It's those kinds of ineffective half-measures that we still have to guard against.

Appointments to the new tribunal will also be crucial - the process will be a sham if injured workers and the labour movement aren't given some say in who sits on the panel.

As AFL president Les Steel said after the government made its long-awaited announcement on the tribunal: "There are a lot of people in the business community who don't want this panel to do its job. If some of those people are appointed to the tribunal, then the whole process will be a farce. That's why we need a say in appointments."

The bottom line is that the government is still not enthusiastic about the tribunal. That's why it's too early to celebrate. Labour activists have to remain focused and vigilant until this baby is actually delivered.

Gil McGowan, AFL Executive Staff
September 2003

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