Employers in Alberta will soon be required to pay WCB premiums that more accurately reflect the real cost of workplace injuries - and that's a good thing, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"For years now, the WCB has been using investment income to keep premiums artificially low," says AFL president Les Steel. "As a result of this practice, the incentive for employers to maintain safe work sites has been undermined. Basically, businesses have been getting a free ride."
Steel was responding to the announcement earlier today that WCB premiums will be increased by 27.3 percent. The WCB said increases are needed to cover the cost of benefits for injured workers and keep the board in the black.
Steel says the financial crunch at the WCB was caused by the board's over-reliance on income from volatile market investments - a practice which the labour movement has criticized for years - coupled with a significant increase in workplace injury rates.
"The reality is that employers in this province are hurting more workers," says Steel. "As accident rates increase, we think premiums should also go up to reflect the real cost of claims. If employers want premiums to go down, then they should make their workplaces safer. It's as simple as that."
Despite predictable complaints from business, Steel says the premium increases are both necessary and desirable.
"For the first time in years, employers in this province are going to be responsible for covering the real cost of the injuries that occur on their worksites. We in the labour movement support this change and hope it convinces employers to take workplace health and safety more seriously."
Between 1994 and 1999, employer premiums dropped 53%, from $2.29 per $100 of insured earnings to $1.07. During the same period the only substantial change to worker benefits was to severely disabled workers. Most workers received no enhanced benefits.
Steel points out that even with the increase announced today, employer premiums are only 71% of 1994 rates. "Employers are still getting a bargain in this province," he says.
For more information call: Les Steel, AFL President @ (780) 499-4135
- or -
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ (780) 483-3021
The Alberta Federation of Labour responded to the government's planned changes to WCB by stating that it had positive and negative impacts on workers. The AFL singled out the promise to establish a one-time tribunal to review longstanding contentious claims as a positive step for injured workers.
"The tribunal to review past claims is a victory for injured workers," says AFL President Les Steel. "Over the years many workers were unjustly denied WCB benefits because of flaws in the WCB system. This one-time review provides a change to correct those past wrongs."
Steel cites the case of the Medicine Hat Transit workers exposed to methanol as an example of a case clearly deserving of a second look. "We need someone with a fresh eye to look at these cases and determine if the worker was treated fairly."
Other changes, Steel says, are a mixture of good, bad and too early to tell. "The changes are a mixed bag for workers. There are some things that will help workers, but there are some proposals I am concerned about as well."
"The WCB has been out of control for the past few years, I am hopeful some of the changes will force the WCB to be more accountable to Albertans." Steel highlights the requirements for an Annual General Meeting and the new Accountability Framework as examples.
Other positive changes include:
- Eliminating the CSRC, the in-house appeal panel, which only served to delay the appeal process
- Moving the Appeals Commission and Appeals Advisors out from under WCB
- Legislating a 30 day requirement on WCB to implement appeal decisions
Steel says he is concerned about structural changes being made to the Appeals Commission. "Eliminating the employer and worker commissioners has the potential to unravel all the other good changes to the appeal system."
Steel is also opposed to making the Commissioners their own Board of Directors. "The people writing the decisions need to be accountable to some body above them. They can't police themselves."
Steel is disappointed the government did not move forward on recommendations to fund independent advocates for injured workers. "Workers should have a right to choose their advocate in an appeal."
"We have been saying for years that the WCB is ignoring injured workers. I think the Minister finally heard our message. And he seems to have gotten it partly right." Steel concluded. "And rest assured we will be talking with him about the rest of it."
For further information, contact:
Les Steel, President @ (780) 499-4135
Jason Foster, Director of Policy Analysis @ (780) 483-3021
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) today responded to the release of two WCB Review Committee Reports by stating that injured workers have been vindicated by the findings. Both reports were highly critical of WCB, calling it unaccountable. Both reports recommend sweeping changes to WCB policies and procedures. The AFL urged the Minister of Human Resources and Employment, Clint Dunford, to act swiftly on the reports.
"I feel injured workers around the province have been vindicated today," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "We have said for years that the WCB is unaccountable, unresponsive and uninterested in helping injured workers. The two review committees agree with us."
"However, I am concerned these reports, like so many before them, will simply gather dust on the Minister's desk," adds Cormack. "I intend to pressure Minister Dunford to act swiftly to implement the recommendations found in the reports."
The MLA review committee found that the core problem at WCB is a lack of accountability. "I agree that accountability is the issue most needing correction at the WCB. It can't happen too soon for me."
Cormack also highlights that the MLA Committee suggests that conflict of interest is a serious potential problem at the WCB. Cormack urges further exploration of this matter.
Cormack says that she is in agreement with most of the recommendations found in the MLA Review Committee. In particular, she is pleased to see recommendations addressing:
- Recommendations curtailing the power of medical advisors and give more authority to the treating physician and an independent panel of doctors.
- Establishment of a Tribunal to review past cases where the worker did not receive just compensation.
- Implementation of an Alternative Disputes Resolution mechanism.
The AFL's opinion of the Appeals Systems Review committee is more mixed. "I am very, very pleased they are recommending the WCB pay for external advocates hired by injured workers. This will make the system much more fair."
Cormack is concerned with recommendations urging the Appeals Commission fall under the Department of Justice, and that a more "legalistic" framework be established for appeals. "In our submission to the Committee, we stated that we did not think a more legalistic approach would help injured workers."
"Today the WCB got its long deserved conviction for failing in its mandate. Hopefully tomorrow we can get the needed changes implemented so we can finally have a fair and just WCB in this province," Cormack concludes.
For further information contact:
Audrey M. Cormack, President (cell) 780-499-6530
Jason Foster, Director (cell) 780-910-1137
The Alberta Federation of Labour revealed today that WCB President and CEO Mary Cameron received a 39% pay increase in 1999. Also, WCB sources inform the AFL that the Board of Directors approved another substantial pay increase for the year 2000.
In 1999, Cameron earned a total of $355,699. This is up from $256,663 in 1998, her first year as CEO of WCB.
"What message does it send to injured workers who are forced to go on welfare while awaiting just resolution of their claim to hear that the President made almost $400,000 last year?" asks AFL President Audrey Cormack. "It looks bad."
Cormack also says that WCB sources informed the AFL that the Board recently approved another pay increase for Cameron to an undisclosed amount. "When will all this generosity make its way down to injured workers?"
"It is a double standard," observes Cormack. "Injured worker benefits are capped at 90% of $48,600, yet there is apparently no ceiling for how high the CEO's salary can go."
Cormack believes the huge salary jump is just the latest indicator that the WCB has forgotten why it exists.
"At the moment, the WCB is an organization under a black cloud. Injured workers and employers have serious concerns about the operation of WCB in Alberta," says Audrey Cormack, President of the AFL. "The WCB has forgotten why they exist - to pay fair benefits to workers injured on the job."
Cormack says she does not begrudge the WCB President from earning a reasonable salary for their job, but adds that almost $400,000 is excessive. In 1997, former WCB CEO John Cowell earned $366,287, plus received a $580,294 severance package.
Cormack calls on Cameron to release the details of her contract with WCB, including any severance provisions and other perks.
"This is a publicly owned organization, and to that end, it should operate with complete openness to the people who run it - the people of Alberta." Cormack concludes.
For more information contact:
Audrey M. Cormack, President @ (780) 499-6530 (cell) 483-3021 (wk)
The Alberta Federation of Labour has obtained a copy of a confidential WCB Board of Directors document outlining a list of 40 amendments to the WCB Act and Regulation the WCB wants made in the spring session of the Legislature. The list includes changes that will give the WCB power to punish workers and will lower the WCB's level of accountability to Albertans.
"I can't believe with all the controversy surrounding the WCB these days, the Board has the gall to propose even less accountability for their actions," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "The amendments do two things: give the Board more power to punish workers arbitrarily and restrict the Auditor General and government from overseeing the activities of the Board. In short, they want more power and less accountability."
Among some housekeeping amendments, the document lists a number of changes to lower accountability, including:
- "Removing the ability of the Auditor General to oversee WCB financial affairs
- "Removing the WCB from the Financial Administration Act and the Government Accountability Act
- "Permit the WCB to 'construct, equip, maintain and operate hospitals, clinics and residence facilities' without permission from cabinet
- "Permit the WCB to set its own terms of remuneration for Directors and Board members
Other amendments give the WCB new power to cut off claimants and interfere with the independence of the appeal process:
- "Allows the 'reduction or suspension of compensation' to a worker who refuses retraining or vocational rehabilitation services
- "Gives the WCB 'the ability to obtain a judgement against a worker' for defaulted payments
- "Eliminates the ability of appeal panels to waive the 1-year limitation period when warranted
- "Introduces a new 1-year time limitation for last chance appeals to the Board of Directors
- "Allows the WCB to name itself as an 'interested party' at any appeal at the Appeals Commission
"These proposed amendments are a slap in the face to Albertans," observes Cormack. "Albertans are calling for more accountability from the Worker's Compensation system, and this Board goes in the opposite direction."
"They are also interfering with the independence of the WCB appeal system and asking for permission to bully workers even more than before by cutting off their benefits and harassing them for overpayments," Cormack adds.
"They obviously feel they are superior to any other public entity."
Oversight by the Auditor General and application of the Government Accountability Act ensure the WCB is accountable to Albertans for how it raises and spends money, notes Cormack. "The WCB wants to be answerable to no one about how it spends Albertan's money."
Cormack is also troubled by the inclusion of a section permitting WCB to build and operate its own hospitals and clinics. "This feels uneasily like WCB trying to set up its own health system outside the public Medicare system."
Cormack called on the Minister Responsible for WCB, Clint Dunford, to immediately reject the WCB's requests, and instead review what steps should be taken to make the WCB more accountable to Albertans. She has written a letter to the Minister making this request.
"The arrogance of the WCB is paralleled only by their drive to prevent any fairness or justice from entering their hallways," concludes Cormack.
NOTE: Copies of the obtained document listing the amendments are available to media by calling the AFL at (780)483-3021.
For More Information:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 483-3021(wk) 428-9367 (hm) 499-6530 (cell)
New figures acquired by the Alberta Federation of Labour show that in 1998, work absence due to illness, injury and disability were at their highest level in a decade. This contradicts the Alberta government and WCB claim that Alberta workplaces are safer than ever. The statistics released by the AFL today suggest that many Alberta workers are getting injured at work but not receiving WCB benefits they deserve.
The AFL requested Statistics Canada to calculate the 1998 "Work Absence Rate" for Alberta, a measurement of how many workers are missing work due to injury, illness or disability. The StatsCan numbers show that the absence rate because of injury is the highest in almost a decade.
In 1998, the Alberta work absence rate (illness and disability) was 4.0. This is up slightly from 3.9 in 1997 and substantially higher than recent years, when the rate hovered below 3.5. It is the highest figure since 1989.
Workers are also missing more days due to injury. In 1998 an Alberta worker missed an average of 5.5 days due to injury or illness. This is up significantly from 1997 when an average of 5.1 days were missed. It is also the highest rate since 1989.
"Workers are getting hurt more now than at anytime during the past ten years. More workers are getting hurt and they are missing more days," says AFL President Audrey Cormack.
"What this tells us is that WCB's boast about record low time-loss claims need to be viewed with suspicion," adds Cormack. "They have a credibility gap."
In its Annual Report for 1998/99, Alberta Labour states that "lost-time claims" are at their lowest level in history, reaching 3.3 claims per 100 person-years. This is down from 4.9 in 1990. They attribute this drop to the government's policy of self-enforcement and financial "incentives" to employers.
The real reason for the discrepancy, suggests Cormack, is that government and WCB policy hasn't improved safety in workplaces, but has instead discouraged the reporting of accidents to the WCB. "Employers now have a built in motivation to hide WCB claims. And with self-regulation, there is no one in the field making sure employers obey the law," notes Cormack
The AFL also points out that WCB's own statistics show that workplace injuries are at record highs. The total number of claims involving injuries was 126,420 in 1998, the highest level ever recorded and double the number recorded in 1990. "You don't read that side of the equation in government press releases," says Cormack.
The statistics suggest workers are injured at work as frequently as before, but they are not receiving the WCB benefits to which they are entitled. "WCB has balanced its books by lowering the number of legitimate injured workers who receive compensation."
"The reality in Alberta workplaces is that more workers are getting injured than ever before, and that time loss rates are on the increase, just that workers aren't getting their fair shake from the system," says Cormack.
Cormack says these figures demonstrate that it is time to re-think the government's policy of self-regulation and incentive-based occupational safety.
"Sometimes you need the government to act like a government to get things done. In this case, that means enforcing our health and safety laws," Cormack concludes.
Statistics Canada and WCB Compared
AFL Backgrounder -- January 13, 2000
Alberta Work Absence Rates
Statistics Canada Work Absence Rate
Statistics Canada measures in its annual Labour Force Survey the incidence of work absences in Canada. They recently released the figures for Canada for 1998. No Alberta numbers were available. The AFL commissioned StatsCan to produce the 1998 figures for Alberta, the latest year for which data is available.
The "Work Absence Rate" measures the number of workers reporting an absence from work during the week they are surveyed. It is recorded as a percentage of the workforce. The AFL is releasing the percentage of workers who reported missing work "due to own illness or disability", which means only those workers who were sick or injured. Work absences for other reasons were not included. The Survey does not distinguish between work-related and non-work-related illness.
The "Days lost per worker" is the average number of days a worker is absent from work during the calendar year for illness or disability.
Alberta Work Absence Rate (Disability/Illness), Statistics Canada
Absence Rate (%) Days Lost Per Worker (# of days)
1990 3.9 5.1
1991 3.8 5.2
1992 3.5 5.0
1993 3.6 5.1
1994 3.4 4.8
1995 3.3 5.0
1996 3.0 4.3
1997 3.9 5.1
1998 4.0 5.5
WCB Claim Rate
Alberta WCB uses a different rate to measure workplace safety. It utilized the "Lost Time Claim Rate", which is the number of new claims filed with WCB which result in a worker missing time at work. WCB uses this rate to set individual employer premium rates. It is measured as the number of claims per 100 workers.
The "Total Claims" is the total number of new claims opened at WCB during the year, including claims involving no missed time from work.
WCB Claim Rates
Lost Time Claim Rate Total Claims
1990 4.9 64,503
1991 4.3 55,162
1992 3.7 75,835
1993 3.5 92,025
1994 3.5 93,187
1995 3.4 91,349
1996 3.4 98,303
1997 3.4 118,121
1998 3.3 126,420
EDMONTON - Alberta's Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) is continuing its "long-established practice of blaming the victim" when it comes to issues of workplace health and safety, says the president of the province's largest labour organization.
Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says that the WCB's latest injury-prevention campaign is a bust because it focuses exclusively on workers - and ignores the responsibilities of employers and the government.
"Educating workers about workplace safety is important," says Cormack. "But it's only half of the solution. Employers and government also have an important role to play. More pressure needs to be placed on employers to ensure healthy and safe working conditions. And the government needs to become much more aggressive in finding and punishing employers who fail to observer minimum health standards."
Cormack's comments were made after the WCB released a "safety alert" calling on Albertans to avoid workplace injuries by being careful on the job. The safety alert was the latest component of a WCB campaign launched in the spring aimed at reducing injury rates. The campaign urges Albertans to avoid injuries by "working safe."
"Once again, the WCB is putting the responsibility for workplace safety on the shoulders of working people, when in reality it should be a responsibility that's shared with the employer, the government and the WCB," says Cormack. "Telling people not to hurt themselves is not going to solve the problem. We'll only be able to reduce injury rates if we combine education efforts with higher health and safety standards, more aggressive inspections and stiffer fines and penalties."
"If the WCB is really concerned about reducing injury rates," Cormack says, "they should support the implementation of measures that have worked in other jurisdictions. For example, in places like B.C. and Quebec businesses over a certain size are required to have joint employee-management health and safety committees. Where these committees are in place, injury rates have fallen substantially," says Cormack.
"Instead of wasting their time producing frivolous "safety alerts" calling on people to stretch before lifting heavy objects, the WCB should turn its attention to more serious concerns," says Cormack. "For example, they should be trying to figure out why the number of workplace fatalities in this province has shot up from 74 in 1993 to well over 100 per year in 1997 and 1998. And they should be addressing the serious concerns that have been raised recently about the quality of service available to injured workers. This campaign of blaming workers for their own injuries just doesn't cut it - it does nothing to address the real problems."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, AFL President: 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)
EDMONTON - The "customer satisfaction" survey that is being used by the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) to defend itself from mounting public criticism is deeply flawed and misleading, says the president of Alberta's largest union organization.
"Over the past few weeks, spokespeople from the WCB have repeatedly trotted out results from their annual client satisfaction survey. They've been using the survey to back up claims that things are running smoothly at the Board and that most people are satisfied with the service they receive," says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Unfortunately, the survey is deeply flawed. The Board only questioned people whose claims have been settled and whose files have been closed. People who are still waiting for a decision on their claims were excluded - as were people who are still receiving compensation payments or services such as rehabilitation therapy, vocational training, or employment counselling."
As a result of the survey's design, Cormack says the Board has failed to get an accurate picture of how its clients - injured workers and employers - really feel about the service they receive.
"The survey neglects to consider the views of the people who are most likely to be dissatisfied," says Cormack. "Given this situation, it's no wonder the WCB gets such high marks. That's what happens when you only question the people who are least likely to complain."
The WCB's satisfaction survey is conducted every year and the results are published in the Board's annual report. The 1998 survey showed satisfaction rates among the people surveyed were up slightly from 1997.
"I have no problem with surveys - they can be useful tools," says Cormack. "But I'm concerned that be excluding so many people, the survey paints a false picture. I'm also concerned that the Board is hiding behind these numbers and using them as an excuse to not address the pressing concerns about service and accountability that are being raised by workers and employers around the province."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, AFL President: 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)
EDMONTON - The Alberta Workers Compensation Board (WCB) does not always treat injured workers fairly, but replacing it with a system of private insurance will not fix the problem, says the leader of Alberta's largest union organization.
"It's true that the WCB doesn't always work in the best interests of injured workers," says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "Too many legitimate claims are rejected and too many injured workers are forced to wait months or even years for the benefits they need and deserve.
But just because the system is flawed doesn't mean that it should be scrapped entirely. We have to be careful not to the throw the baby out with the bath water."
Cormack's comments come in the wake of rising criticism of the WCB and calls for the introduction of a private, for-profit system of compensation for injured workers. Cormack says she agrees with many of the criticisms that have been leveled against the WCB - but she says privatization would make things worse, not better.
"The big complaints about the current system have to do with accountability, the appeals process and the manner in which claims are assessed," says Cormack. "Many people feel that legitimate claims are being downgraded or rejected in order to save the WCB money. And they think the WCB is not open and transparent enough. But privatization won't fix any of these problems. If anything, profit-seeking insurance companies will have an even bigger incentive to deny claims - and they will be even less open to public scrutiny."
Cormack says the question of whether or not it makes sense to privatize the WCB has been studied numerous times over the past ten years. In almost all cases, she points out, academics and other people investigating the issue have concluded that Canada's current system of publicly-controlled compensation for injured workers is far superior to the private, for-profit systems that exist in places like the United States.
Among other things, the various studies have concluded that private insurance companies operating in competitive compensation systems tend to
- provide lower benefit rates to injured workers
- put a much lower priority on rehabilitation of injured workers
- charge higher premiums for many employers - in fact, under some private systems, employers in high risk industries find it almost impossible to get coverage.
In addition, in competitive systems there are often no formal appeal procedures for workers who are not satisfied with decisions made by the private insurance companies. A worker's only recourse is often to hire a lawyer - at great expense - and attempt to fight it out in the court system.
Aside from all of these problems with private insurance systems, Cormack says privatization would undermine the Meredith Principle - which has acted as the cornerstone of Canada's workers' compensation system for more than 80 years.
According to the Meredith principle, individual injured workers give up their right to sue their employers in exchange for a guarantee of fair compensation. But Cormack points out that under most private compensation schemes, workers retain their right to sue. This exposes employers to much higher levels of financial liability and greatly increases costs for individual workers as they pursue their claims.
"It's a lose-lose scenario for workers and employers," says Cormack. "When you look at the systems that exist in the United States, it's clear that the interests of working people in Alberta would not be well-served by introducing a market-model for workers' compensation in the province. Privatization would mean lower benefits and fewer opportunities for rehabilitation for most workers; higher premiums for many employers; and reduced accountability to the public. With these facts in mind, I find it hard to understand how anyone could support privatization."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, AFL President: 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)
Gil McGowan, Director of Communications: 483-3021 (wk)