Bill 41 makes seven key changes to the Workers Compensation Act to better support workers (detailed below). Five of these changes fulfil recommendations from the Patterson report; all of the recommendations work to bring BC in line with other Canadian jurisdictions.
– This legislation establishes a more independent Fair Practices Commissioner (FPC) with the authority to investigate complaints by workers and employers of alleged unfairness in dealings with WorkSafeBC.
– A Fair Practices Office already exists within WorkSafeBC, but it’s a black box.
– This office will be more independent, will make recommendations to WorkSafeBC and deliver an annual report.
– Establishes a clear employer duty to re-employ injured workers and to accommodate returning workers short of undue hardship.
– Expands access to Independent Health Professionals by allowing them to be requested as a part of an appeal to the external Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal.
– Requires interest to be paid on compensation benefits owed for 180 or more days.
– Includes explicit provisions against claim suppression.
– Restores indexing of workers’ compensation benefits to the Consumer Price Index.
– This comes into effect on Jan. 1, and though it will not apply retroactively, it will make a big difference for folks on disability.
– Increases the maximum compensation for non-traumatic hearing loss.
– WorkSafeBC identified this issue as necessary to address; the change provides more flexibility for future changes to the non-traumatic hearing loss compensation scheme.
It’s an honour to be able to stand and speak to Bill 41, the Workers Compensation Amendment Act (No. 2). Before I get too far into my comments here, I would just like to acknowledge that this is the second time that this bill has been opened in this session. It is becoming somewhat of a habit, I think, that with the bills, we see multiple amendments for these bills for this legislation in a single session. It’s kind of unique to this government, I think, that that we open and close, and open and close, and open and close this legislation.
I’m just acknowledging that this is the second time that this bill has been opened for amendments — a suite of amendments that I think workers in British Columbia are going to be pleased with. I know that our colleagues in the official opposition have raised the point with the respect to the impacts that these changes could have, potentially, on businesses, and I think that there is a need to balance that.
However, I think that one of the things that we have heard over the last number of years is a growing concern, especially in our constituency offices, with respect to WorkSafeBC and with respect to injured workers and the relationship between those workers and WorkSafeBC.
I know that I have a handful of cases, seemingly perpetually, of injured workers. I know that I’ve got two cases right now from outside of my constituency, simply because the MLAs that are of the areas that are responsible for where these individuals live were not prepared to provide any advocacy. We’re picking up that advocacy on behalf of those workers.
I think it’s important that we recognize that the changes that have been needed, the reports that have been written, the calls that have been made to this government are being made, however slowly and however in a fragmented fashion that we see them being made here.
This spring I spoke to amendments to the labour code, and I said: “With the Patterson report collecting dust with 100 recommendations that authentically protect workers yet to be implemented, this B.C. NDP administration has ceded ground when it comes to workers.” So it is important that they’re making up that ground, and we see yet another piece of legislation here to be debated.
However, it’s not for them. I mean, I guess for the B.C. NDP who have long claimed to be a workers party, it’s important for them from a political perspective, but from the sake of our constituents, from the sake of the work that we do in this place on behalf of the people of British Columbia. it’s really important that the work is being done to implement the Patterson report, the Petrie report, our Ombudsperson Jay Chalke’s report — that that work is being done by government no matter what banner they’re flying, no matter what colour banner they have flying outside this building.
I was pointing out earlier in the spring the meagre progress that this government has made on the recommendations of the numerous labour reports that we’ve seen over the last years. I just referenced them. but I’m going to name them here: Janet Patterson’s report, New Directions: Report of the WCB Review 2019; Paul Petrie’s 2018 report, Restoring the Balance: A Worker-Centred Approach to Workers’ Compensation Policy, and in the addendum of that report, Claim Suppression: The Elephant in the Workplace; and Ombudsperson of B.C. Jay Chalke’s report, Severed Trust: Enabling WorkSafeBC to do the Right Thing When Its Mistakes Hurt Injured Workers.
Earlier in this session, earlier in the spring, I had some very pointed words as to where government and the systems that have been created here to support workers have left those workers without the support, without the care and without the resources that they need to be able to be looked after.
As has been said in the speeches prior to me standing and speaking to this, workers should have the expectation that they go to work and not get sick. They should go to work and not get injured, and they should go to work and be able to come home at the end of the day. Those are the basic expectations that we have in this House and that we have in this society. That’s the WorkSafeBC workers compensation system that we’ve set up. It was a system in which the premiums are paid, and the workers’ expectation that when they are put in the unfortunate situation of having to access those resources, they will be there for them, and that the people who are administering that system are there working on their behalf in order to ensure that they’re well looked after.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen, through those reports that I just noted, that that’s not always the case. We as constituency MLAs see those cases come through our doors. It’s unfortunate. So it is important that this government is making these recommendations, and I think it’s also important to keep in mind the cost impacts as have been raised also.
For the sake of those that may be just joining the debate, I’ll just go over…. I know they’ve been mentioned previously, but I’ll repeat them again. The recommendations that are in this report will improve safety accountability and protections for workers. At a time, right now, where we see that workers in our economy are vulnerable, struggling to make ends meet, I think it’s just a basic provision that we can ensure workers that also get injured or sick at work have the ability to be looked after. It’s nice to see that some of the recommendations that I talked about earlier in the spring, from the Patterson report, are finally being enacted, brought to the table for debate.
The legislation that we have in front of us today establishes a more independent fair practices commissioner with the authority to investigate complaints by workers and employers of alleged unfairness in dealings with WorkSafeBC. The office will be more independent than it currently is, and it will be an office within WorkSafeBC that will make recommendations to WorkSafeBC and deliver an annual report to this House.
It also establishes a clear employer duty to re-employ injured workers and to accommodate employees returning to work. It expands access to independent health professionals by allowing them to be requested as part of an appeal to the external Workers Compensation Appeal Tribunal. The legislation requires interest to be paid on compensation benefits owed for 180 days or more.
It includes explicit provisions against claim suppression. This was a point that I made quite sharply, I believe it was in April of this year, with respect to Paul Petrie’s report, which has been in front of this government for some time, taking a look at the claim suppression that has been ongoing and that this government, for the last five years, has failed to address. It is going to make Mr. Petrie…. It’ll make all those workers that have claims that perhaps have been suppressed — make them quite happy to see that this government is addressing this issue.
It restores the indexing of workers compensation benefits to the consumer price index. I think that there’s increased importance of that as we see inflation continuing to increase. Finally, this legislation increases the maximum compensation for non-traumatic hearing loss. These are all important steps that this government is taking to bring us in line with other Canadian jurisdictions and will serve to make B.C. a safer place for people to work.
I want to caution, though, as I do in these speeches, that government not use this progress as a as a shield against future and ongoing work. There’s much, much more work to do. We know that the compensation system has to be worker-centred. I think everybody here to the debate so far has been saying that. Certainly, the minister was saying it in his points earlier today.
We know that the dispute resolution process still needs to be redesigned. In a June interview, Janet Patterson, who I referred to earlier, highlighted this last issue, saying that there is “not even a whiff of comment” about redesigning the dispute resolution system. The changes before us today do not appear to overhaul this dispute resolution system.
All of this to say, the reality here is that for a party that has long worn the cap of the worker, a party that purports to be a labour party…. The reality is that we continue to raise these issues, and then they come to the table.
This needs to be part of the government’s inertia. It needs to be something that drives this government, rather than having to have these issues be raised, and then several months later…. I mean, if that’s the role that this government wants to take — to have the members of the opposition raising these issues about workers and workers rights to have a fair dispute resolution system, then that’s fine. Continue to provide that service. However, it is an expectation, I think, of workers that this current government be leading that, and I would expect to see those changes and changes in the culture of the government going forward.
We still have a long way to go, and there’s a lot more that needs to be done to protect workers. We’ll continue to raise those issues. And I think it is important, also, to acknowledge the comments that our colleagues have said previously, with respect to the fact that there is a challenge that this government has in making sure that they’re achieving a fine balance with the needs to protect workers and to ensure worker safety, to ensure that there are dispute resolutions that are fair, but as well, to ensure that the decisions that are being made in this House are not putting an undue amount of pressure on a small business community that simply cannot carry anymore.
That is a challenge that the Minister of Labour has and that, frankly, all of the members of this chamber have as we go forward here in a time in which we see increasing inflationary pressures, not only on individuals and on businesses but also on the institution of government.
With that, Madam Speaker, thank you for this opportunity, and I’ll take my seat.