Six years ago, Kevan Chandler was killed while working for Tongue Creek Feeders. It appears that his widow, Lorna Chandler, has finally received compensation for his death. This compensation comes after a six-year lawsuit. The settlement also appears to have forced Tongue Creek Feeders into bankruptcy, resulting in 40-odd workers being laid off.
Like all Alberta farms, Tongue Creek Feeders was exempted from mandatory workers’ compensation coverage. And, like most Alberta farms, Tongue Creek Feeders did not choose to voluntarily enroll in workers’ compensation.
The Chandler case highlights some of the strengths found in the original compromise between labour and capital over workers’ compensation. For injured workers, compensation is (usually) immediate, predictable and stable. Had the employer been covered by workers’ compensation, there would have been no lawsuit, with its costs and delays and uncertainties.
Although it appears Chandler’s widow was compensated before the employer went bankrupt, the history of workplace injury is replete with cases where an injured worker wins a lawsuit against the employer only to see the settlement evaporate when the employer goes out of business. Workers’ compensation prevents this outcome.
For the employer, workers’ compensation provides significant liability protection. Had the employer bought coverage, it would not likely have gone out of business as a result of this fatality. The costs of the settlement would have been borne by all members of the industry group (basically risk is pooled). At worst, the employer would have seen an increase in its workers’ compensation premiums.
I’m often critical of workers’ compensation. Yet, for many workers, workers’ compensation provides an important financial support after they are injured. It is odd that Alberta exempts both the most hazardous industries (e.g., farm work) and the least hazardous industries (e.g., accounting) from mandatory coverage.
While voluntary coverage is available, it appears relatively few employers choose to enroll in it. I expect this reflects a combination of ignorance, wishful thinking and cold calculation about the probability of a successful lawsuit if a worker is injured or killed.
-- Bob Barnetson