- What is WCB?
- Why do we have WCB?
- Who does WCB cover?
- How is WCB failing?
- My employer says they pay for WCB so it needs to work for them.
- My employer said that small businesses can’t afford any changes to WCB.
- When was the last time WCB was reviewed?
- Who pays when WCB doesn’t?
The primary purpose of WCB is to be there to help workers who are injured at work. This help can include medical attention to get workers back to work and compensation to cover lost wages from being off work because of an injury or illness. This is a system meant to help both workers and employers.
WCB was created as a compromise between workers and employers. Workers receive immediate, stable and predictable help for workplace injuries in exchange for giving up the right to sue employers. WCB acts as a public insurance program that employers fund through premiums so they can’t be sued by injured employees and so that employees can get help when they are hurt on the job.
WCB covers most workers in Alberta. However there are approximately 195,000 workers and 200 industries that are excluded from mandatory WCB coverage. Alberta has the longest list of excluded industries in Canada and workers in these industries have no automatic safety net if they are hurt at work.
There are a number of ways that WCB is failing Alberta’s workers.
- Over time WCB has worked to decrease the premiums employers have to pay while maximizing their own profits. To lower employer premiums and maximize their own profit WCB has been denying claims and reducing the help hurt workers can get. They are doing this even though their whole purpose is to help injured workers.
- WCB has been providing bonuses to their own staff for lower claim costs through closing claims quickly and returning injured workers to work before they are ready.
- Other issues with WCB include problems when workers return to work, problems with recognizing workplace illnesses that other provinces acknowledge, the arbitrary maximum amount of wages WCB covers and replaces, and lastly, there are important issues workers face when they cannot find work after partially recovering from an injury.
- WCB also makes it harder for workers to access independent Occupational Health Specialists. WCB hires Occupational Health Specialists for different kinds of contracts to carry out their role in helping workers. As part of these contracts WCB recently started adding a clause that prevents these Occupational Health Specialists from providing medical opinions to workers who are appealing WCB. It is extremely difficult to find Occupational Health Specialists in Alberta who do not have a contract with WCB. This means if you are injured as a worker and need a medical opinion for an appeal you will have to go outside of Alberta for help.
While employers do fund WCB they do this in exchange for workers giving up the right to hold their employer accountable for workplace injuries and diseases in courts. WCB needs to live up to its purpose of helping injured workers when they need help the most. WCB cannot put the bottom line of businesses over the health and rights of workers.
Also, WCB is funded by all employers but not all employers pay the same amount. In 2015 the average rate was just $0.97 for every $100 paid to a worker. This is the lowest rate in all of Canada.
WCB has not been reviewed in more than a decade. It is time to update our processes so they make sense in our changing workplaces. This is also a time to update our policies and regulations with the new understandings of workplace illnesses and injuries, for example recognizing the effects of workplace stress. All of us in Alberta need our laws and programs to be reviewed and updated for them to work for everyone in the province.
The last comprehensive review of WCB was done over 15 years ago.
When WCB turns down a legitimate workplace injury then that individual worker and their family end up paying. But the costs extend beyond that, as these injured workers end up in the public healthcare system costing all of us more money.