Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Injured worker protest tomorrow

It appears there will be a protest by injured workers across the street from the Edmonton Workers’ Compensation Building from February 29 to March 2. The Alberta Chapter of the Injured Workers of Canada have teamed up with Occupy Edmonton and the Raging Grannies to highlight what they perceive as flaws in the administration of the workers’ compensation system. You can read their demands on the link above. One of the questions they raise is:
Where is the WCB money that is paid into by employers?
Why are Alberta Taxpayers paying for Injured Workers who have been denied legitimate WCB claims and forced onto AISH, a taxpayer funded social program? WCB cannot displace Injured Worker to AISH leaving Alberta Taxpayers to foot the bills.

This is an interesting question on a couple of levels. First, it links workers’ compensation denials to pressure on other (publicly funded) income support programs. That is to say, injuries that are denied by the WCB don’t simply go away. Rather, the costs associated are often borne by the health system, EI, CPP, welfare and AISH. To the degree that a refusal is illegitimate, this represents a cost transfer from employers to the taxpayer. An interesting research question would be how much of the provincial income support rolls comprise injured workers?

This line of questioning leads us to the issue of long-standing contentious WCB claims. One of the recommendations of the Doerkson review of workers’ compensation (way back in 2000) was that the province:
Establish a one time independent tribunal with the authority to arbitrate and resolve, through settlement, long standing contentious claims.

My sense of this is that there was, at that time, a desire to do something about these claims (which are both unjust and eat up a huge amount of MLA time). This recommendation may also reflect the widespread view during the early 2000s that the WCB did not administer claims fairly. The sawoff would be that costs associated with these files would then not be assessed against employers or industry groups.

The CEO of the WCB at the time was concerned that the costs would be borne by employers via premiums (basically there would be a cost transfer over time between firms). As a result, this recommendation went nowhere, although the government has, in the past, pointed to the greater independence given to the WCB appeals tribunal as the outcome.

If the key issue is money (and isn’t it always?), what might the government do if there was a pot of found money that was adequate to settle these claims? Well, it turns out there was. Last year, mostly through investment windfalls, the WCB ended up with $230.1 million more than it needed to be fully funded. Consistent with their policy, the WCB gave it back (as a special dividend) to employers

In fact, since 2006, the WCB has paid out $1.4 billion in special dividends. The government has argued that these represent overpaid premiums so should go back to employers. The 2011 special dividend was not an overpayment though—it was driven largely by investment windfalls.

So why not use that money to resolve these long-standing claims? It might have taken some effort by the government, but surely that is not impossible. What is more likely is that there is simply no political appetite to address long-standing claims. And this, as much as anything, explains the continuing anger and action of injured workers.

-- Bob Barnetson


  1. Here is a facebook site for the protest:


  2. Oh, and here is the new facebook site for the Canadian Injured Workers (maybe the Alberta Chapter?):


  3. The protest was clearly a manifestation that the injured employees are fighting for the claims that they truly deserve. You shared some great points here, Bob. Allocating the funds for the employees' claims will make everyone feel at ease, as this assures that the employees' welfare are a priority.

    -Allan Kenan