B.C. employers halt participation in workers’ compensation review

Journal of Commerce | Russell Hixson | August 15, 2019

B.C. employers halt participation in workers’ compensation review

Dozens of employer groups have ceased participation in a review of B.C.’s workers’ compensation system, stating they have lost confidence in the process.

“We just want a fair and independent process,” said Doug Alley, managing director of the Employers’ Forum, which is helping organize the response from various employer groups.

In a letter to Janet Patterson, the retired labour lawyer tasked with the review, the 46 groups expressed concerns over the short time period of the review, the expanding scope of the review and the potential bias of Patterson herself.

“In the most recent review, engagement has been especially minimal, and the scope of the review has expanded well beyond what we believe was originally intended,” reads the letter. “We have lost confidence that the review can be done in a manner considered fair to all parties.”

In the letter the groups noted that the decision was not made lightly.

“We can no longer lend any credibility to the review by participating in a process which we believe lacks independence, impartiality and balance,” it concludes.

The employers stated that they were promised by Labour Minister Harry Bains that the it would be a “focused” review. When the terms of reference were released in April, many employers felt they were vague.

Then, earlier this month employers received a memo including a list of additional “selected issues” Patterson wanted stakeholder consultation on, which the signatories state has increased the scope to a system-wide review without giving adequate time.  

 “In the view of the Employer Community, the list of ‘selected issues’ completely alters the scope of the ‘focused review’ to a comprehensive examination of all aspects of the workers’ compensation

System,” reads the letter from employers to Patterson. “It is important to recognize that recent comprehensive system reviews have taken much longer.”

The groups also took issue with Patterson herself. They cited a submission to the Patterson Review by the BC Federation of Labour that referenced a report it commissioned in 2009, titled “Insult to Injury” which was co-authored by Patterson.

The authors of “Insult to Injury” gave 24 recommendations and proposed amendments to the workers’ compensation system. According to the group of employers, of those 24 recommendations, all but one appear on Patterson’s recent “selected issues for further stakeholder consultation” list for the current review.

“It is pretty hard to sit down and discuss something, when you know what their views are,” said Alley. “How do you change their mind?”

In “Insult to Injury” the authors concluded that changes to the workers’ compensation system in the early 2000s “were initiated by the Liberal government after an aggressive lobbying effort by employers,” and that “the employer lobby advanced the inaccurate view that the system had become economically unsustainable and the resulting changes were based upon no discernable principle other than that of reducing costs for employers. “

The authors also wrote that the changes successfully reduced costs for employers but “have come at a profound cost to workers and to the treatment and benefits that injured workers receive under the compensation system.”

The BC Federation of Labour stood by the government’s decision to hire Patterson, emphasizing that the selected issues arose from the consultation process and are now being discussed in a supplemental phase of the review.

“I want to emphasize how important we believe this review is. It is much needed. This review is to ensure fairness, dignity and respect for injured workers and injured workers’ families,” said Laird Cronk, federation president. “We know the government appointed a well-respected subject matter expert. This was not a surprise to anyone. This was done months ago. She was given terms of reference to do a broad consultation that was from all stakeholders. The employer did their part in the process which has now completed.” 

Cronk urged the employers reconsider their decision and complete the process.

“The employer community has said they are not going to participate any further, and that’s unfortunate because you want a really robust review of the system,” he said. “This a supplemental part, but I would encourage them to participate in that. This is super important. It’s really critical to workers and would be disrespectful to those workers to not complete the review at this point.” 

Among the construction-related groups that have signed the letter are the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, Association of Consulting Engineering Companies – BC, BC Construction Association, BC Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association, Construction Labour Relations Association of BC, Northern Regional Construction Association, Canadian Home Builders’ Association of BC, Progressive Contractors Association, Southern Interior Construction Association, Vancouver Island Construction Association, the Vancouver Regional Construction Association and the Council of Construction Associations.

“This isn’t taxpayer dollars, this is employer dollars,” said Alley, when asked about potential major changes to the system. “They are already hit with healthcare tax, increased minimum wage and other things. It is just one more nail.”

He added that as costs continue to rise, investors may decide on less expensive jurisdictions.

Patterson’s report is due to government at the end of September.