WCB uses 'immoral' incentives: labour group: AFL says bonus system only in Alberta

Alberta is the only province where Workers' Compensation Board staff get bonuses for swiftly getting injured workers off benefits and back to work -- and must discontinue these "immoral" incentives, according to the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Liberal critic Hugh Mac-Donald revealed last week that Alberta's WCB uses bonuses to reward staff when the entire organization meets certain targets, which this year included a focus on helping return the injured to work and drafting clearly written decision letters to workers and their families.

The AFL has been in contact with its counterparts across Canada and said Alberta is alone in using such bonuses on staff who evaluate workers' compensation claims.

"The use of financial incentives to encourage WCB case managers to disallow claims or move injured workers back to work when they may not be ready for it is not only a built-in conflict of interest, we go so far to say it is an immoral abuse of the workers' compensation system," said Gil McGowan, president of the AFL.

The only other province that has come close to establishing a similar policy in the past was Newfoundland, which tried to introduce a job description for its WCB case managers making the "financial viability" of the board a priority in making decisions on individual cases, said McGowan.

While she could not comment on whether WCBs in other provinces use bonus systems, board spokeswoman Jennifer Dagsvik said Alberta's focus on helping injured workers get back to work -- even in a modified role -- is also meant to aid in a healthy recovery.

The longer an injured worker is off the job, the less likely they are to ever return to work, Dagsvik wrote in an e-mail interview.

"We care about our clients and believe our focus on helping workers integrate back into the job is the right one, and the statistics clearly indicate our current system works," she said.

The labour federation is also concerned about premium levels the WCB charges employers, which are lower than all other provinces.

According to the WCB web-site, employers are charged an average of $1.32 per every $100 of insurable earnings. By comparison, there's a $1.56 employer premium in British Columbia, $1.63 in Saskatchewan and $1.60 in Manitoba.

"What it says to us is that the people running Alberta's Workers' Compensation Board have their priorities seriously confused. It suggests they are more interested in keeping premiums low for employers than they are about providing support and rehabilitation for Alberta workers who have been injured on the job," McGowan said.

The Workers' Compensation Act requires the WCB to collect enough employer premiums to ensure it can cover all claim costs, both current and in the future, and the WCB must charge the premiums needed to do so, Dagsvik said.

"Our lower premium rates are reflective of good employer and worker claims performance. Even though the actual cost per claim goes up each year, and the average length of total disability has increased to just over a month (35 days away from work), the volume of claims has gone down," said Dagsvik.

While MacDonald continues to lobby against WCB staff bonuses, the Liberal labour critic disagrees with the labour federation that WCB premiums charged to employers are too low.

Alberta's premiums are the lowest in Canada, but having competitive WCB payroll rates is an economic incentive, Mac-Donald said.

Calgary Herald, Sun July 25 2010
Byline: Sarah McGinnis

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