Soup kitchens, charities, women’s shelters, the YMCA and other non-profit organizations are getting a financial break with a five-year freeze on their Workplace Safety and Insurance Board premiums as the Ontario government agency lowers its average premium rate for all employers by 17 per cent.

The freeze will help almost 2,700 non-profits while another 1,600 will see premiums drop, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said Wednesday at the downtown Y, noting Legions had been bracing for increases of 300 per cent.

“We understand these organizations are run by dedicated people and often operate on shoestring budgets,” he added. “That’s why we asked the WSIB to take this measure.”

McNaughton said the freeze will cost $17 million in lost premiums but is worth it to help the non-profit sector and is feasible now that the workplace insurance system has eliminated a massive unfunded liability.

“We are thrilled. Any relief is welcome,” said Cathy Taylor, executive director of the Ontario Non-Profit Network, an umbrella group representing the sector that also includes some addiction recovery centres, theatres, hospices, animal shelters, rape crisis centres and art galleries.

“The cost of running a non-profit is just like running a business. We are subject to all of the other legislation and regulation and policies that businesses are. And so trying to do that with a no-profit bottom line and trying to increase our capacity to deliver services, every dollar helps.”

The YMCA’s Ontario president said it will take time to calculate the savings.

“This announcement is positive for a number of YMCAs that work tirelessly to deliver important services from child care to employment services across the province,” said Medhat Mahdy. “We welcome this change, which will help reduce operating costs for charities including many regional YMCAs in Ontario.”

The overall reduction in average premiums for 2020 was announced at the WSIB’s annual meeting on Wednesday, representing a savings of $607 million for employers, said the agency’s chair, Elizabeth Witmer.

Overall, about 75 per cent of employers will pay lower premium rates and 25 per cent will see increases now that the workplace insurance board has eliminated its long-standing unfunded liability, McNaughton told reporters.