As​ ​New​ ​Brunswick’s​ ​WorkSafeNB​ ​Task​ ​Force​ ​nears​ ​completion​ ​of​ ​its​ ​work,​ ​with​ ​a​ ​report​ ​expected​ ​in​ ​late 2017/early​ ​2018,​ ​there​ ​seems​ ​to​ ​be​ ​confusion​ ​in​ ​the​ ​province​ ​about​ ​the​ ​recent​ ​cost​ ​increases,​ ​the interests​ ​of​ ​employers​ ​and​ ​the​ ​nature​ ​of​ ​workers’​ ​compensation​ ​generally.​ ​New​ ​Brunswick’s​ ​Ombud, Charles​ ​Murray’s​ ​appearance​ ​before​ ​the​ ​task​ ​force​ ​and​ ​subsequent​ ​interview​ ​on​ ​CBC​ ​Radio​ ​has highlighted​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​misconceptions​ ​with​ ​the​ ​public,​ ​which​ ​I​ ​will​ ​endeavour​ ​to​ ​address.

Perhaps​ ​the​ ​most​ ​foundational​ ​misunderstanding​ ​Mr​ ​Murray​ ​states​ ​is​ ​characterizing​ ​workers’ compensation​ ​as​ ​a​ ​‘social​ ​support’​ ​program​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​an​ ​insurance​ ​system.​ ​Social​ ​programs​ ​by definition​ ​are​ ​funded​ ​through​ ​a​ ​government​ ​department​ ​or​ ​agency.​ ​The​ ​WorkSafeNB​ ​system​ ​is​ ​outside of​ ​this​ ​scope​ ​-​ ​it​ ​is​ ​a​ ​pooled​ ​fund​ ​supported​ ​by​ ​employers​ ​of​ ​the​ ​province​ ​who​ ​provide​ ​100%​ ​of​ ​the premiums.

Similarly,​ ​Mr​ ​Murray​ ​takes​ ​issue​ ​with​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​that​ ​government​ ​and​ ​WorkSafeNB​ ​should​ ​be​ ​concerned with​ ​‘balancing’​ ​the​ ​interests​ ​of​ ​workers​ ​and​ ​employers.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​peculiar​ ​position​ ​since​ ​the​ ​entire system​ ​is​ ​based​ ​on​ ​a​ ​balance​ ​-​ ​that’s​ ​what​ ​a​ ​compromise​ ​involves.​ ​He​ ​states​ ​that​ ​business​ ​benefits​ ​from the​ ​certainty​ ​of​ ​the​ ​system​ ​-​ ​which​ ​is​ ​true.​ ​However,​ ​workers​ ​also​ ​benefit​ ​from​ ​this​ ​certainty,​ ​with​ ​more than​ ​90%​ ​of​ ​claims​ ​being​ ​approved.
The​ ​alternative​ ​is​ ​the​ ​court​ ​system,​ ​which​ ​is​ ​highly​ ​uncertain​ ​for​ ​both​ ​parties,​ ​although​ ​the​ ​negative consequences​ ​of​ ​relying​ ​on​ ​the​ ​courts​ ​would​ ​seem​ ​to​ ​be​ ​much​ ​higher​ ​for​ ​workers​ ​than​ ​employers. Workers​ ​further​ ​benefit​ ​from​ ​employers​ ​having​ ​the​ ​certainty​ ​of​ ​the​ ​workers’​ ​compensation​ ​system​ ​-​ ​it allows​ ​them​ ​to​ ​plan​ ​expand,​ ​and​ ​create​ ​jobs.​ ​That’s​ ​what’s​ ​currently​ ​under​ ​threat.​ ​Or​ ​perhaps​ ​the​ ​issue here​ ​is​ ​simply​ ​semantics.​ ​When​ ​WorkSafeNB,​ ​government​ ​and​ ​business​ ​talk​ ​about​ ​a​ ​‘balance’​ ​-​ ​what​ ​we are​ ​really​ ​talking​ ​about​ ​is​ ​the​ ​‘sustainability’​ ​of​ ​the​ ​system.​ ​What​ ​must​ ​be​ ​understood​ ​is​ ​that​ ​the interests​ ​of​ ​workers​ ​and​ ​employers​ ​are​ ​almost​ ​entirely​ ​aligned​ ​-​ ​that’s​ ​why​ ​a​ ​compromise​ ​was​ ​possible in​ ​the​ ​first​ ​place.

It​ ​is​ ​unclear​ ​how​ ​Mr​ ​Murray​ ​envisions​ ​the​ ​system​ ​being​ ​sustainable.​ ​In​ ​his​ ​CBC​ ​interview​ ​he​ ​states​ ​both that​ ​the​ ​system​ ​“...costs​ ​what​ ​it​ ​costs”​ ​and​ ​“everything​ ​has​ ​to​ ​be​ ​done​ ​within​ ​a​ ​reasonable​ ​economic cost”.​ ​On​ ​one​ ​hand​ ​he​ ​acknowledges​ ​that​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​limit​ ​to​ ​what​ ​the​ ​system​ ​can​ ​​reasonably cost​ ​and​ ​on the​ ​other​ ​hand​ ​suggests​ ​it’s​ ​somehow​ ​‘morally​ ​wrong’​ ​to​ ​talk​ ​about​ ​how​ ​to​ ​balance​ ​fair​ ​benefits​ ​with long-term​ ​sustainability.

The​ ​suggestion​ ​that​ ​only​ ​certain​ ​types​ ​of​ ​companies​ ​are​ ​concerned​ ​about​ ​WorkSafeNB​ ​rates​ ​is​ ​not accurate​ ​-​ ​every​ ​business​ ​is​ ​concerned​ ​with​ ​costs,​ ​they​ ​wouldn’t​ ​be​ ​in​ ​business​ ​for​ ​long​ ​if​ ​they​ ​didn’t. This​ ​doesn’t​ ​mean​ ​that​ ​business​ ​owners​ ​don’t​ ​care​ ​about​ ​employees​ ​or​ ​would​ ​put​ ​them​ ​in​ ​dangerous situations​ ​and​ ​it​ ​certainly​ ​doesn’t​ ​mean​ ​they​ ​want​ ​less​ ​protection​ ​for​ ​workers.​ ​What​ ​it​ ​means​ ​is​ ​that revenue​ ​and​ ​expenses​ ​matter​ ​in​ ​the​ ​private​ ​sector​ ​-​ ​we​ ​can’t​ ​survive​ ​without​ ​that​ ​balance.​ ​WorkSafeNB understands​ ​that.​ ​The​ ​minister​ ​understands​ ​that.​ ​The​ ​province’s​ ​workers​ ​understand​ ​that.

We​ ​agree​ ​that​ ​WorkSafeNB​ ​rate​ ​alone​ ​shouldn’t​ ​deter​ ​a​ ​business​ ​from​ ​locating​ ​to​ ​New​ ​Brunswick. That’s​ ​why​ ​we​ ​are​ ​clear​ ​that​ ​WorkSafeNB​ ​premiums​ ​are​ ​just​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​a​ ​growing​ ​list​ ​of​ ​the​ ​increases (some​ ​of​ ​that​ ​list:​ ​gas​ ​tax,​ ​diesel​ ​tax,​ ​property​ ​tax,​ ​income​ ​tax,​ ​land​ ​transfer​ ​tax,​ ​minimum​ ​wage,​ ​HST,​ ​EI premiums;​ ​and​ ​in​ ​the​ ​next​ ​two​ ​years:​ ​carbon​ ​tax,​ ​federal​ ​tax​ ​planning​ ​changes,​ ​new​ ​statutory​ ​holiday, CPP​ ​increases).​ ​What’s​ ​different​ ​with​ ​WorkSafeNB​ ​is​ ​not​ ​only​ ​the​ ​53%​ ​increase​ ​over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​two​ ​years, but​ ​the​ ​fact​ ​that​ ​because​ ​of​ ​the​ ​legislative​ ​changes​ ​in​ ​2015,​ ​there​ ​is​ ​no​ ​reason​ ​to​ ​think​ ​that​ ​this​ ​will​ ​slow down​ ​at​ ​any​ ​point​ ​without​ ​government​ ​intervention.

Premiums​ ​have​ ​been​ ​lower​ ​than​ ​the​ ​national​ ​average​ ​over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​few​ ​years,​ ​due​ ​in​ ​large​ ​part​ ​to​ ​New Brunswick​ ​having​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​lowest​ ​workplace​ ​injury​ ​frequency​ ​rates​ ​in​ ​the​ ​country​ ​and​ ​that​ ​it​ ​has​ ​been consistently​ ​falling​ ​as​ ​employers​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​embrace​ ​a​ ​culture​ ​of​ ​safety.​ ​Reductions​ ​in​ ​WorkSafe​ ​rates in​ ​previous​ ​years​ ​were​ ​not​ ​subsidies​ ​to​ ​employers​ ​from​ ​the​ ​system,​ ​but​ ​rather​ ​a​ ​result​ ​of​ ​overpayments that​ ​employers​ ​made​ ​in​ ​previous​ ​years​ ​that​ ​are​ ​being​ ​returned.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​akin​ ​to​ ​calling​ ​tax​ ​refunds​ ​from​ ​CRA subsidies,​ ​rather​ ​than​ ​your​ ​own​ ​money​ ​being​ ​returned​ ​because​ ​you​ ​paid​ ​more​ ​than​ ​was​ ​required.

Finally,​ ​we​ ​do​ ​agree​ ​that​ ​WorkSafeNB’s​ ​decision​ ​to​ ​reset​ ​their​ ​funding​ ​target​ ​to​ ​100%,​ ​down​ ​from​ ​110% was​ ​ill-advised.​ ​Not​ ​only​ ​does​ ​it​ ​make​ ​the​ ​fund​ ​less​ ​sustainable​ ​-​ ​it’s​ ​a​ ​bad​ ​business​ ​decision.​ ​This​ ​is money​ ​that​ ​will​ ​have​ ​to​ ​be​ ​paid​ ​in​ ​future​ ​years​ ​anyway.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​of​ ​any​ ​group​ ​or​ ​individual employer​ ​that​ ​has​ ​made​ ​that​ ​suggestion​ ​to​ ​the​ ​task​ ​force​ ​or​ ​government.​ ​New​ ​Brunswick​ ​employers​ ​not only​ ​see​ ​the​ ​value​ ​in​ ​keeping​ ​their​ ​workers​ ​healthy​ ​and​ ​on​ ​the​ ​job,​ ​but​ ​they​ ​also​ ​care​ ​about​ ​them​ ​as people​ ​and​ ​consider​ ​them​ ​their​ ​work​ ​family.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​unfair​ ​and​ ​inaccurate​ ​to​ ​frame​ ​the​ ​WorkSafeNB​ ​issues as​ ​one​ ​of​ ​employees​ ​vs​ ​employers.​ ​There​ ​aren’t​ ​really​ ​sides​ ​here​ ​-​ ​a​ ​functional,​ ​sustainable​ ​workers’ compensation​ ​system​ ​is​ ​everyone’s​ ​goal.

 

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. With more than 950 members, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is one of Atlantic Canada’s largest chambers of commerce. A dynamic business organization, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is actively engaged in policy development that affects the competitiveness of our members and of the Canadian business environment. It’s vision is "Community Prosperity Through Business".