BY BILL PHILLIPS
A proposal to return surplus WorkSafeBC funds to employers is drawing criticism from the B.C. Federation of Labour.
The province is set amend the Workers Compensation Act to establish a new policy requiring WorkSafeBC to return funds to employers when it has a surplus of contributions from employers in the Accident Fund.
The Workers Compensation Act gives WorkSafeBC authority to establish and manage an Accident Fund to pay for past, current and future claims for workers injured or killed at work. This includes the authority to collect premiums from employers based on their payroll and establish a reserve to fund future liabilities. WorkSafeBC also generates additional income from the investment of the funds it collects from employers.
“Employers fund the workers’ compensation system in our province and we think their money should be returned to them when the system is over-funded,” said Labour Minister Shirley Bond. “We will establish in legislation a policy that requires WorkSafeBC to return money to B.C. employers which will particularly benefit small businesses that help drive growth and job creation in our province. This is about striking a balance to have the funds needed to help injured workers and their families now and into the future while limiting volatility in premiums that employers have to pay.”
The B.C. Federation of Labour, however, sees the move as a “gift” to businesses in the province on the eve of the May 9 provincial election.
“The money that the government and employers are appropriating should instead be used to improve benefits for workers killed and injured on the job that were slashed by the BC Liberals,” said Irene Lanzinger, B.C. Federation of Labour president. “On the job, workers’ daily experience is that government and employers aren’t doing enough to keep them safe. Health and safety protections are weak and not always rigorously enforced. Worker safety is being compromised. Injured workers aren’t fairly compensated, and employers whose negligence kills or seriously injures workers are let off with a slap on the wrist.”
The new policy will trigger a return of funds to employers when WorkSafeBC’s funding hits a specific target level of assets over liabilities over a period of time. WorkSafeBC will retain the authority to manage the Accident Fund.
The amendment will not affect the benefits payable to workers injured or killed at work. The policy work is intended to be completed by June with the ensuing legislative changes being brought into law as early as the next legislative sitting. The development of the new policy will include what threshold level of assets over liabilities will trigger a return of funds. In addition, there will be consultations with employers about the elements required to establish the policy, including protecting against severe fluctuations in premium rates.