Proposed changes to Workers Compensation Act marks beginning of restored balance
After years of advocacy by workers and their unions – including your union's submission to the B.C. workers' compensation system review last year and the courageous testimonies at public hearings by dozens of current and former BCGEU members who had been injured on the job – the provincial government has begun to restore balance to BC's workers' compensation system.
On July 14, the B.C. government tabled Bill 23, the Workers Compensation Amendment Act, 2020. If passed, the bill will increase WorkSafeBC's powers and the amount of compensation workers can receive. These amendments prioritize the needs of injured workers and undo some of the damage done by the previous BC Liberal government in creating a compensation system that favoured employers and failed workers.
I'm glad to see our government tabling legislation to repair some of the damage done since 2002. I believe the proposed changes will strike a better balance between the interests of workers and employers and will rebuild workers' confidence in the system.
If passed by the legislature, Bill 23 will allow WorkSafeBC to:
- Return to the dual system of assessing pension entitlement. This is a major improvement because it essentially restores what the BC Liberals took away in 2002 and more fairly reflects the loss experienced by BCGEU members injured on the job.
- Wait until an injured worker turns 63, when the effects of their injury are more established, to assess their retirement date. This change negates the present policy where the Board assumes the worker's retirement date at the time of injury. This change is fairer to the injured worker, especially young workers who may not yet know their retirement date.
- Authorize preventive medical treatments before a claim is accepted. This is most significant for psychological injuries for which timely intervention could mean quicker recovery and for which the cost of treatment is often not covered by our province's health care system. Furthermore, the injured worker would not be required to reimburse the Board for pre-paid treatment should their claim be denied.
- Increase the maximum insurable earnings from $87,000 to $100,000. This is a significant, welcome and long overdue change and will help protect the full annual earnings of many members.
- Correct obvious errors after 75 days, rather than within 75 days. This is a new power and gives more flexibility, will reduce demand on the appeal system and benefit workers who would otherwise have to appeal.
- Implement a regulation related to an occupational disease that is an infection caused by a communicable viral pathogen (such as COVID-19) in less than 90 days. This change in timeline will allow the Board to more rapidly respond to and effectively deal with prevention and compensation issues like pandemics. In the potential case of a second wave of COVID-19, this change will be critical to ensuring workers who contract the virus can access benefits faster.
- Collect unpaid premiums and other monies owing the Board, including holding directors personally liable if their company fails to pay. This new power will ensure owners cannot hide behind their corporation status to avoid paying premiums or fines.
- Ensure the court considers victim impact statements when considering a penalty or punishment. This is an important change for members as it will enable them to have their experience influence the degree to which an employer is reprimanded.
Of course, there is more that we want to achieve in our workers' compensation system, and we will continue to push for those changes. In the meantime, your union is encouraging the government to pass Bill 23 as soon as possible, and ensure the Board regularly reviews and updates these policies and powers to maintain balance between the needs of workers and employers.
We will keep you informed of any further progress on these changes.
Stephanie Smith, President
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