Report says injured workers should get less
TheStar.com – Business – Report says injured workers should get less
Published On Tue Dec 08 2009. By James Daw Personal Finance Columnist
Employers should pay higher premiums to protect injured workers and more employers should start paying premiums, Ontario’s auditor general urged Monday.
But injured workers may have to collect less, return to work sooner and be given fewer narcotic painkillers to help shore up Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, Jim McCarter suggests in his latest annual report.
Even before the report was released Conservative Leader Tim Hudak was calling for the firing of part-time WSIB chairman Stephen Mahoney – and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan was accusing Hudak of wanting the government to cut injured workers’ benefits.
McCarter’s report said the 30-year target of eliminating a funding shortfall by 2014 has been abandoned for as many as eight years due in part to steep investment losses. But it said the desire of governments and the WSIB to “satisfy all the stakeholders” is also to blame.
Investment losses of more than $4 billion in the past two years and operating deficits averaging $900 million a year over the past seven years left the WSIB with a gaping $11.5 billion funding deficit at the end of 2008, a deficit the auditor general suggested should be added directly to the government’s books.
“Both the WSIB and the government may have to commit to a different strategy with respect to the setting of premium rates and benefits if the WSIB is to be able to eliminate the unfunded liability within a reasonable period,” McCarter’s report argued.
“Eliminating or reducing the unfunded liability requires the interaction of four key levers – legislated benefits, (expanding) coverage (to industries like financial services), (raising) premium rates and investments – to work effectively in tandem.”
McCarter’s office says it does not agree with Mahoney’s argument the WSIB’s funding shortfall should not be cause for concern, because there is no danger of it going out of business or failing to pay benefits.
“We … are concerned that the trend of selling off the WSIB’s investments to fund current operations and benefits is not financially sustainable,” the report argues.
The proposals for paring the shortfall are political hot potatoes, however. Ontario already charges among the highest workers’ compensation premiums in Canada, averaging $2.26 per $100 of insurable payroll, up from $2.13 in 2002. Premiums are to remain frozen in 2010, except for 36,000 companies with poor safety records.
But the WSIB is in far worse shape than compensation systems in other provinces, and collects premiums from a much smaller percentage of employers.
Injured workers’ benefits were last cut after the recession of the early 1990s, when premiums also started to fall. The Liberals increased benefits for certain workers by 2.5 per cent in each of the past three years.Satinder Chera, director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, wrote Monday to Minister of Labour Peter Fonseca to endorse the auditor’s harsh assessment of the WSIB.
He urged that “no decision on whether to increase benefits beyond December 31 will be taken until open and transparent consultations have taken place with all affected parties.”
Mahoney in an interview declined to reveal what recommendations he will make to government in February regarding benefits and premiums.
“I am absolutely confident we are on the right track,” he said, citing projections of an average 7 per cent investment return, a 7 per cent annual reduction in injury claims and programs to get injured workers back to work sooner.
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