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Danny Cavanagh: Expanding Workers’ Compensation coverage to include all workers should be the number one priority

Photo Robert Short/CBC

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – I was pleased to participate in the recent 2020 Workplace Safety and Insurance System (WSIS) Annual Meeting in early September. The Workplace Safety and Insurance System includes workers, employers, and other safety agencies in the province, including the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB). The strategic goals of WSIS are to:

Improve outcomes for workers and employers; to enhance service delivery, ensure effective governance of the System; and ensure the System’s financial sustainability. The organization’s mission is to work together to help keep workers healthy and safe at work,insure against loss, and support workers’ rehabilitation. They strive to be fair, open, and responsible in everything they do. The WCB Board Chair chairs the annual WSIS meeting.

The Workers’ Compensation System we have today was built around a trade-off to keep employees from suing their employer for a workplace accident, injury, or death. The Workers’ Compensation System compensates injured workers for workplace-related deaths, injuries, and illnesses. We will continue to work to make the system better for workers.

One of our most significant concerns is that just over 25% of Nova Scotia workers do not have Workers’ Compensation coverage. Potentially, those workers can sue their employer when they get hurt on the job. The Workers’ Compensation System is heading towards being fully funded, and that’s good news. That means that the system is getting close to eliminating its unfunded liability. Now is the time to bring those exempted workers without coverage into the system. They must be a priority.

The Workers’ Compensation Board is supposed to be independent, but it does work to implement legislative programs of government. New legislative changes are coming for volunteer and paid firefighters. Compensation coverage for firefighters is essential. Many communities rely on volunteer firefighter coverage, so having those volunteers covered makes sense.

We expect we will soon hear from employer organizations that the employer rate reductions for Workers’ Compensation be at the top of the list, with full funding just around the corner. That same old mantra about profit losses, increased prices, closing their doors or how they will cut staff, wages, and hours, is an old argument. Expanding Workers’ Compensation coverage for workers currently excluded from it  makes sense and should be the number one priority.

Rather than complain about rates, we need to make sure that Workers’ Compensation covers all our province’s workers. I would suggest that if employers want to do something proactive to lower their Workers’ Compensation rates, they work with us to change our province’s workplace health and safety culture. We need more employers to work and ensure they have a safe workplace. In other words, rates come down when injuries come down.

Another glaring issue when it comes to Workers’ Compensation coverage is the number of injuries in healthcare and long-term care. With more funding, proper equipment, and staffing, injury rates will fall.

When we work together, we can be proactive in improving the workplace safety culture in Nova Scotia bringing injury rates down and eliminating workplace fatalities.

When criminal charges are brought forward for unsafe conditions at workplaces, we need to see the courts hand out more jail time and larger fines for infractions when a guilty verdict is handed down. Changing the workplace safety culture will ensure a stable and well-funded WCB system.  

I have confidence that the Workers’ Compensation Board will provide a balanced approach with any system reforms, starting with workers who have no coverage. 

Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

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