A scathing Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) report accusing Ontario’s WSIB of rebating millions to companies that were found guilty of workplace fatalities is receiving mixed reviews among those in the industry.
The report states over a three year period between 2011 and 2013, 135 employers that had been convicted of offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) were allegedly given rebates on their premiums by the WSIB. It also states that 78 of the 135 companies received almost $15 million in rebates the same year they had committed the offences.
The WSIB released its own statement in reaction to this report stating the information was inaccurate and misleading.
The figures listed in the report centre around a comparison of the WSIB's experience rating data, claims an OFL release, as well as Ministry of Labour court bulletins for convictions under the OHSA.
The release of this report isn't shocking to some.
"The OFL has come up with so-called reports on experience rating going back four or five years now. They don't like it, they generate reports against it to try and get the WSIB to abandon experience rating," states David Frame, director of government relations for the Ontario General Contractors Association.
"It was bad information, bad data, is what they (WSIB) said. The WSIB's response, I believe says enough."
Experience rating is a cost-based incentive program that's intended to promote good health and safety practices, early and safe return to work and appropriate disability management practices. Employers receive rebates or surcharges according to their performance based on claims costs.
In 2008, the Daily Commercial News reported the WSIB made the decision that any company responsible for a workplace fatality would not be eligible for a rebate.
"There's a fatal claims policy at the WSIB. You don't get a rebate. It's pretty black and white as far as I can see," explains Chair of the Ontario Construction Employers Coalition Patrick McManus.
"It is an absolute tragedy when somebody gets killed in construction. It's not like companies in construction take it lightly...even beyond your premium rates."
However, the OFL's report is raising questions about the effectiveness of experience rating, which is something that should be examined from time to time states Patrick Dillon, business manager for the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario. "I think the OFL is just doing their job as an organization by raising an issue that has been there for six years. Bringing it to the public will probably cause some people to look at what are we actually doing here, both from the Ministry of Labour side and WSIB," he says.
"This has been an issue over the years for the labour movement, on behalf of injured workers. There doesn't appear to be any evidence that shows that these incentive programs are actually driving prevention."
Dillon previously sat on the board for about 16 years he says, and over the years this issue has surfaced, causing him to question why the system operates as it does.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the incentive systems have created fraudulent activities in the employer world at the expense of injured workers. That's not all of them, there's no denying that that exists," he states.
"The WSIB continues to run this scheme...as do the consultants for the employer organizations. It's sort of a lifeblood for them, but the fact of the matter is it's supposed to be a lifeblood for the workers. I don't think it's doing the job that people like to try and claim that it does."
Frame states experience rating is a simple concept that is needed in the industry.
"The important part of the insurance system is to provide a system of rewards and incentives, as long as you participate in it. If you own a car, you have car insurance... if you have two or three accidents you expect your rates to go up because your costs have gone up. It's the very same thing," he says.
"WSIB is a $3 billion a year government agency and there's always discussions about should they be spending more on benefits, should they be spending less, how are they going to collect their money."
Dillon states the board should take a look and providing incentives for workers.
"Why is the incentive only on the one side of the table? It's the workers that get killed or maimed or injured in the workplace," he explains.
"Create a system with an equal amount of money in it for the workers. When a worker raises a legitimate safety concern on a job site that worker gets an incentive amount of money."
McManus acknowledges more discussions could be had surrounding experience rating and systems within the WSIB, but overall it does serve a purpose.
"As with many things in the WSIB system...it's not perfect. The rebate and surcharge system, I do think works quite well," he says.
"I think that it does incent prevention because people often take that money and reinvest it in health and safety. This argument going back and forth over experience rating has gone on for so long, these things seem to get rehashed every six months or so. It's unfortunate how these things play out sometimes."