Workers’ Comp Reclamation? Alberta Points the Way.

Reclamation:  A process of claiming something back or reasserting a right.

INTRODUCTION

For the radical right of corporate employers, Alberta’s workers’ compensation system has long been the shining city on the hill – the system with the lowest premiums in Canada.

In Ontario, the radical management regime that captured Ontario’s workers’ compensation system in 2010 saw the Alberta workers’ comp administration as all that was wanted in a cost-limiting machine.

Indeed, the transformation of the Ontario workers’ compensation system that began in 2010 with the “relentless execution” (to use the then new President’s  own words) of a radical, cost-cutting policy –  might well be characterized generally as the Albertification of the Ontario system.

But then

the NDP became the government party in Alberta, and…

THE RECLAMATION OF WORKERS’ COMPENSATION SYSTEMS BEGINS

In the Spring of 2016, the new Minister of Labour, Christina Gray, initiated a government review of Alberta’s workers’ compensation system.

The review was assigned to a WCB Review Panel comprised of Chair, Mia Norrie, and Members, John Carpenter and Pemme Cunliffe.  The Review Panel’s Report: WORKING TOGETHER – Report and Recommendations of the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) Review Panel, is dated June 2017 and was delivered to the Minister of Labour two weeks ago.

The Report may be found at: https://www.alberta.ca/assets/documents/WCB-Review-Final-Report.pdf

The Review Panel acknowledges the efficiency of the Alberta Board in handling the straightforward claims, but, as with Ontario and other workers’ compensation systems, the problems arise with respect to the small percentage, but still very large number, of claims that are not straightforward – the claims that drive the system’s costs. It is the Board’s handling of the latter claims on which the Review Panel’s report is focused.

The Working Together Report is couched in the polite language one might expect from a new government anxious not to frighten the horses, but, unpacked, it pulls no punches.

From its 190 pages the following take-away excerpts tell the tale:

The Alberta workers’ compensation system is seen to have lost its way.

It needs to re-focus and re-align on its central purpose: assisting workers who suffer workplace-related injuries and illnesses

The WCB tends to manage [claims that are not straightforward] in aggressive accordance with strict rules, even when the resulting decisions fly in the face of common sense.

The WCB is perceived to have a culture of denial.  (RE: Denial by Design, one might say.)

The WCB needs to be regarded as an impartial decision-maker.

Assisting injured workers has taken a backseat to managing claims.

The system [should not] exist to manage claims, it exists to provide assistance to injured workers.

Workers’ compensation cannot be what is compromised in the name of competitiveness or cost-cutting.

Trust in the system must be re-established.

A cultural change is needed throughout the system.

The cultural change  required is one that will ensure that decisions are grounded in evidence, stakeholder input, and adherence to the Meredith Principles.

The central focus of the workers’ compensation system cannot be the management of cases; it must be the health and well-being of injured workers.

The system needs to exhibit the fundamentals that are essential for trust in any relationship: transparency, honesty, openness, good communication, and fairness.

Worker advocates in Ontario and across the country will all be going: “yep, that’s us too”.

RE

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