WSIB construction industry premiums to decline 35 per cent with unfunded liability pay-off

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Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) says it anticipates an average WSIB premium reduction for employers of 29.8 per cent in 2019, after it paid off its $14.2 billion unfunded liability 10 years ahead of schedule.

The Progressive Contractors Association (PCA) of Canada says in a news release that the savings will be even greater for the construction industry – though organized labor isn’t happy with the announcement, saying that the unfunded liability recovery/premium reduction is at the expense of injured workers.

The new rates will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

“An approximately 35 per cent premium reduction for construction translates into millions in savings across all segments of our industry,” said Sean Reid, the PCA’s vice-president and Ontario regional director.

“These savings will create new opportunities for Ontario contractors to reinvest in their businesses and create more jobs for Ontario workers. It also takes some of the pressure off construction employers who’ve been burdened with rising materials costs in recent months, due to the ongoing tariff dispute with the US.”

The 2019 average premium rate will decrease from $2.35 to $1.65, the WSIB says. The savings are even more significant, however, for higher-rated construction categories.

“Today’s premium rate announcement leaves $1.45 billion in the economy that businesses can invest in new jobs, new technology and health and safety improvements,” said WSIB chair Elizabeth Witmer.

The WSIB also said it has launched a new strategic plan focused on “helping businesses improve health and safety, achieving better return-to-work and recovery outcomes for people and updating service and technology while maintaining fiscal discipline,” the WSIB news release said.

“We’ve moved from a tipping point to at turning point,” WSIB president and CEO Thomas Teahen said in a statement. “We are focused on making changes to give people faster, more personalized service to meet their needs and expectations.”

However, the Ottawa Federation of Labour, representing unionized workers, has a different perspective of the changes.

“The WSIB has eliminated its unfunded liability largely at the expense of benefits to injured workers,” said Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) president Chris Buckley. “Today’s announcement of an additional cut of nearly 30 per cent to employer premiums will further negatively affect injured workers – that far too often struggle to access the benefits to which they are entitled.”

The OFL says in 2010 the WSIB issued compensation benefits to injured workers in the amount of approximately $4.8 billion, by 2017 that number was cut to $2.3 billion.

“Studies of injured workers with permanent impairments found that 58 per cent have long-term reduced earnings, 46 per cent of permanently impaired injured workers live in or close to the poverty level and 9 per cent live in deep poverty,” the OFL news release said.

The elimination of the WSIB’s unfunded liability has included reductions in health care expenditures and reducing benefits for what the WSIB calls “pre-existing conditions,” even when those conditions never caused the injured worker to miss time from work before their injury, the labour group says.

“This risky move has the potential to further polarize relations between employers and workers in Ontario, instead of fostering cooperation on the prevention of workplace injuries and diseases, and the sustainable re-employment of injured workers,” the OFL said in its statement.

“Ontario’s unions have a strong proven track record working with their employers in these two vital areas, however, it has been in the context of a workers’ compensation system which properly compensated the workers who suffered injury or disease,” said Buckley.

“Now, we must redouble our efforts to finding win/win solutions with employers the likes of which have been achieved in the past.”

The OFL said it calls on Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Laurie Scott to ensure that every worker in Ontario has universal access to workers’ compensation and to ensure that the prevention of occupational injury, illness and disease receives the critical attention and funding required to build safer workplaces.

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