Why Are Businesses Paying ‘Staggering’ Compensation Rates When Workers Are Not ‘Less Safe’?

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I recently attended the Annual General Meeting for WorkSafe New Brunswick, which was held in Moncton on July 17. To say that the presentation delivered by WorkSafeNB CEO, Doug Jones, was “eye-opening” would be an understatement.

First of all, Mr. Jones made it clear that despite the startling increase in workers compensation rates since 2016, N.B. employers are not “less safe.” This is a very important fact and one often overlooked.

Despite the fact that N.B. employers are not “less safe,” it is projected that employers will be paying between $156-million and $185-million more in workers compensation costs next year than they were paying in 2016. This is a staggering amount of money in a very short period of time.

In 2016 the N.B. workers compensation rate was $1.11 (per $100 of assessable payroll). In 2019 it is projected to jump to between $2.69 and $2.95 — an increase of over 150 percent in just three years. And N.B. is an anomaly. Every other province in Canada saw their rate decrease by an average of more than 8 per cent between 2016 and 2018.

To be clear, I understand and fully support the Meredith Principles (no fault compensation with no right to sue) behind every workers compensation system in Canada. Employees certainly deserve appropriate wage loss benefits when they are injured at work. No one is disputing this.

But the fact of the matter is our workers compensation system is now covering non-workplace accidents and illnesses. Mr. Jones set out a few examples where workers compensation benefits were being paid in situations not connected to the workplace. The workers compensation system has largely turned into a “social program.” But if the government wants workers compensation to be a social program, then they should pay for it — not businesses.

Without immediate legislative changes, costs will continue to spiral out of control. For example, hearing claims liabilities have increased by $161-million in the last three years (2015-2017). There have been almost 1,800 new hearing loss claims for people aged 70 and above in the past three years. Our hearing loss claim volumes are running at three to four times that of other jurisdictions. What is so different about NB that claims are running three to four times that of other provinces?

As noted by Mr. Jones in his presentation, the “current system is unsustainable” and “Legislative change is critical.” As a business owner employing 65 workers in the province, I ask that the governing party after our September 24 election immediately move forward with the required legislative changes to remedy the current WorksafeNB rate crisis. We need a sustainable system for employers, for workers and their families.

John Bourque is the President of Bourque Industrial.