CORNER BROOK Workers compensation premiums have been a big issue for the Newfoundland and Labrador Employer’s Council for some time, and Richard Alexander said the issue can only be addressed through legislative changes.
Alexander, executive director of the Employer’s Council, is meeting with members on the west coast this week and today will present a report on a study the council commissioned on the issue during a Greater Corner Brook Board of Trade meeting.
“The Impact of High Worker’s Compensation Premiums on Newfoundland and Labrador,” by University of Toronto economist Morley Gunderson, quantifies the excessive premiums paid by Newfoundland employers and the impacts those premiums have on employers, employees and the province.
Talk about change
He said the council has been involved in talking about changes to the Workplace Health, Safety, and Compensation Commission for 20 years and has come to the conclusion that what can be done within the confines of the legislation is limited, so the legislation needs to be changed.
Alexander said the study’s release is timely as the province has announced a statutory review of the workers compensation system.
The study has already been released on the east coast and seen by the commission and members of government.
The council also plans to present it to members in central and Labrador.
Over the last 20 years, Alexander said workers compensation premiums have fluctuated anywhere from 33 to 89 per cent higher than the national average.
The current figure is about 42 per cent higher than the Canadian average.
In response to why that is, Alexander said “the simplest answer to that is that our system is more expensive.”
He said Newfoundland and Labrador has the largest percentage of workforce that is covered in the country, has trouble with injured workers returning to work in a reasonable amount of time and that there are people who qualify for benefits here who would never qualify in another province.
The impacts of the high premiums for businesses include investment and the ability to expand and compete with competitors from jurisdictions that don’t have excessive premiums.
For the broader community, he said, the high premiums put a downward pressure on wages, reduce employment opportunities, drive up the costs of goods and services, affect investments and the gross domestic product (GDP).
Alexander said any recommendations to improve the system need to ensure that the levels of benefits provided now are protected.
“We’re not interested in seeing cuts to injured worker benefits, but what we are interested in seeing is fundamental legislative change that gives the commission the legislative tools to be able to control costs, cut wastage and improve efficiencies within the system so that every dollar that goes into the workers compensation system is used in the most efficient and prudent manner.”