Update on COR (Certificate of Recognition or Partners’ Program) from the Employer’s Forum

Further to our meeting on December 7th and notices shared this past week, we are sharing  update written by Dave Earle, The Employers’ Forum’s Past President, who has been intimately involved in the review and who sits at the COCA table.  His report:

Members will undoubtedly have questions around WSBC’s consultation on the COR program. After a series of small, large, individual, bi-lateral and tri-partite meetings over the past several years, the Forum nominated Heather Tomsic (Metro Vancouver), Donovan Hides (SNC Lavalin) and myself to sit on a 3 business and 3 labour consultation committee to work through details of proposed COR practice documents. We have recently concluded these meetings.  Below is a bit of history and a review of progress to date.

WSBC has been reviewing/re-designing/consulting on COR (aka Certificate of Recognition, Partners Program) for 2-3 years now. In broad strokes – 20 years ago, construction got together and discussed creating a voluntary program to encourage employers to adopt a higher OHS standard. WSBC was brought in, an administrative rebate system was created and funded by those who want to participate, and off we go. Industry led, industry created, industry administered. Currently 8 certifying partners, 3,600ish employers certified, Forestry and Construction are the bigger players by numbers.

At inception, WSBC did not create an adequate policy or practice framework to administer the program. Problems emerged as the program grew ad-hoc. Labour has opposed the program, at times as philosophically opposed to incentive programs writ whole, other times as they viewed the program as not enough of a higher standard. Other instance the program was criticized as “bad” employers got in, but the bottom line is that workers/labour were not consulted nor involved in the program.

In 2013/14, WSBC started to pay attention to cases related to payment of rebates going through the system. There were “problems” with the disability management COR as employers who were certified did not have modified duties. There were “problems” with OHS COR as employers who were COR certified were facing admin penalties. From the Forum’s long-standing perspective, these issues could/should have been handled on a case by case basis. Instead, WSBC engaged on a review of the program. We noted that while excessive, from our perspective this could have been a good idea as we had been calling for policy on a variety of administrative issues for years.

WSBC took full ownership of the practice/policy/program development a few years ago, engaged labour as an equal with certifying partners providing employer input. Through considerable effort, industry has a seat at that table. WSBC is trying to drive a tri-partite consultation process with labour, business and themselves at the table. From our perspective, this is not appropriate.

From the outset we have been blunt with the Senior Executive Committee and policy/practice folks at WSBC that given their chosen path (that this is no longer an industry led program, that it’s going to be tri-partite similar to policy development) employers are going to be at loggerheads with labour. There are hills in this program that employers will die on. Employers learned from the 1990’s regulation review experience not to walk away when we disagree, but to try to work with and pursue as far as we can.

WSBC released a draft audit standard at the beginning of November.  It is the first of 9 documents and forms the basis for the other 8 yet to come. While there are elements that can work in that document, in our view it is not an audit standard but instead a statement of principles, many of which are entirely unacceptable to employers.

In our view, this program started as an industry led, voluntary program, funded entirely by industry. After industry led this process, unilaterally stepped up, sought a higher standard and demonstrated good results, we are having the program taken away from us at the behest of labour, re-designed to fit a rubric created by Subject Matter Experts employed by a regulator, force-fed 3rd party and ambiguous participatory requirements, and watching our program mutate into a second level of regulation. This is not what we intended. This program is not legislative, regulatory nor policy driven. It is not a tri-partite process. It is industry led, and voluntary. In our view, the program must be meaningful and achievable. It must not be a second layer of regulation, nor so detailed and process driven that it becomes bureaucratic and unwieldy, yet this document appears to be driving the program in exactly that direction. In general terms, we believe the entire document should be abandoned.  Specifically:

  1. The “may” and “should” elements must be deleted. Contemplation of auditing Employment Standards Act/Reg compliance inside an OHSMS, even as a “should”, indicates a flawed thinking process.
  2. The reference to “effective worker participation” is non defined, and when combined with a requirements to involve worker / worker rep review of the adequacy of resources allocated by the employer takes it much further than even a tri-partite process.
  3. The standard should be accessible, not based on third party standards nor best practices. Requiring employers to review industry best practices when developing their action plan is inappropriate.

The document as presented is general, embeds other standards inappropriately, expands scope of the program outside OHSMS, fails to address concerns identified by WSBC as the basis for the program review, creates significant ambiguity and uncertainty and appears to push the program much further in methodology than industry ever intended to take it. It is ironic that labour opposed commenting on the OHSMS policies as the proposed policies were “not specific,” but are willing to comment on this document which is again, not specific, but contains general provisions which can be used to greatly expand the scope and intent of the program, and embeds labour throughout.

Recently the construction industry has actively begun to voice their opposition. We encourage COCA members to review the document, discuss with your certifying partners and determine if the issues we’ve identified resonate with you.

The deadline for feedback was Friday, but don’t let that discourage your participation. Review and comment when you can.  We’ll keep you up to date.

Written feedback should be sent to Chris Back at hsmprogram@worksafebc.com.

As Dave indicated, comment was due Friday, but we are sure WSBC will review all documents employers submit on this issue over the next short while.  Please, get involved.  We would appreciate it if you could copy COCA with any correspondence you have with the Board on this issue.