In his Nov. 20 Winnipeg Free Press op-ed (“Modern workforce needs new illness, injury insurance”), Graham Lane dismisses concerns that incentives in the Workers Compensation Board rate assessment model are encouraging many employers to suppress workplace injuries and deny fair compensation to injured workers. His claims don’t stand up to scrutiny.
In response to workers’ complaints that too many employers are preventing or discouraging injured workers from filing compensation claims, Lane downplays such abuses as a rare occurrence, speculating that such “claim suppression likely does, on occasion, occur.” Yet earlier this year, an expert external review of Manitoba’s Workers Compensation Board (WCB) found “persuasive evidence of under-reporting of claims and claims suppression activities.” Similarly, in Ontario which has a similar rate assessment model, an independent study commissioned by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board said, “the most important conclusion to be drawn from the research is that claim suppression appears to be a real problem. It is unlikely that claim suppression is restricted to a small number of anecdotal cases.” It would be irresponsible for the Manitoba Federation of Labour to abandon the countless injured workers who have been denied fair compensation as a result of claim suppression.
To the extent that Lane admits claim suppression occurs at all, Lane asserts “the penalties against the employer are significant enough to promote good behaviour.” In fact, the penalty for claims suppression is a mere $450, significantly less than the amounts an employer can save by suppressing claims. More important, as the Winnipeg Free Press reported on October 8, documents obtained through freedom of information reveal Manitoba’s WCB has never once penalized an employer for claim suppression. Manitoba’s external review concluded: “it does not appear that the existing investigation capacity is adequate to identify non-compliance, and the current penalty level is insufficient to act as a deterrent to prevent claims suppression.” This should concern ethical employers who end up paying the freight for those employers that break the rules without punishment.
Lane defends the status quo WCB rate assessment model by asserting it “promotes workplace health and safety.” The author of Manitoba’s recent external review of the WCB came to a very different conclusion: “I found little persuasive evidence that the assessment rate model provided a substantial direct incentive to develop and implement effective safety programs.” Even a 2011 internal WCB report to its Board of Directors admitted, “there is no connection between the rate model and employers choosing to implement accredited safety and health programs.” On the contrary, the external review found the rate model actually encourages claims suppression and management “at the expense of resources that would otherwise be available for safety programs.”
For all of these reasons, workers are calling for a WCB rate assessment model that promotes genuine workplace injury and illness prevention. Resources spent on incentives that now encourage too many employers to engage in unethical claims suppression would be much better spent on an incentive program which rewards employers for doing the right thing and investing in safer workplaces. That requires shifting resources from existing financial incentives that encourage claims suppression to new incentives tied to documented safety programs.
By Kevin Rebeck, President, Manitoba Federation of Labour