There are four separate review processes going on at this time in British Columbia which affect the workers' compensation system.
1) Legislation and Policy Core Review.
The government announced at the end of September that Alan Winter had been appointed to conduct the core review of the workers' compensation system's legislation and policy. Alan Winter is the leading B.C. lawyer for employers in workers' compensation matters, and represented employers' groups before the recent Royal Commission, where he argued forcefully for cutbacks to coverage, benefits, and appeal rights.
The terms of reference for the core review cover virtually all aspects of the system, as well as those recommendations of the Royal Commission (222 in all) which dealt with legislative and policy changes. Specific changes that are being considered include:
- a new governing body for WCB, with minimal if any representation for labour or injured workers;
- reducing the levels of appeal to a single, sudden-death procedure;
- reducing the (non-taxable) benefit rate from 75% of gross average earnings to 80-90% of net earnings.
- deducting CPP disability benefits, if any, from WCB pensions.
- eliminating all benefits for permanently disabled workers who return to their previous occupations, except for a modest lump sum based on the worker's age and the nature of the condition.
- reducing or eliminating benefits for certain disabilities, including pain conditions, some psychological injuries, and some cancers and other occupational diseases.
- reducing the WCB's duty to provide vocational rehabilitation so that a worker who has been retrained for a new occupation will be deemed capable of those earnings whether or not an actual job is available.
- having the government, rather than WCB, establish and enforce health and safety regulations.
The review will be completed by January 15th, 2002, and the amendments required to implement the recommendations will be introduced in the spring legislative session.
The consultation process will be very limited. Alan Winter has said that he won't meet with or receive written submissions from anyone but the organizations designated by the government at the time of his appointment. On the workers' side, this means only the B.C. Federation of Labour, Workers' Advisers, and Workers' Compensation Advocacy Group. The only way that community groups, private lawyers, and individual unions and injured workers can show their opposition to the likely cutbacks is by communicating directly with the Minister, Premier, MLAs, and the media.
2) Service Delivery Core Review
The second part of the core review of WCB will be a review of the Board's delivery of services conducted by Allan Hunt, a U.S. based researcher who previously prepared full administrative inventories of the B.C. workers' compensation system in 1990 and 1995, and a partial inventory in 1996.
Allan Hunt will consult more broadly that Alan Winter. He has set up a web site to describe the process, and an email address to receive comments and submissions: labour [dot] ministry [at] gems2 [dot] gov [dot] bc [dot] ca
He will also be meeting with certain groups and individuals during the next two weeks, before returning to his base in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The Service Delivery Core Review will address the non-legislative recommendations of the Royal Commission, which was very critical of WCB's service delivery and decision-making. Another possible source of recommendations is the special report of the Auditor General, who made some very good suggestions in 1997 about improving the Board's accountability for its decisions.
3) The Administrative Justice Project
This is an ambitious and far-ranging review being conducted by the Attorney General to review the mandate, jurisdiction, structure, procedures, and staffing of approximately 60 administrative tribunals, including the Workers' Compensation Review Board and Appeal Division. A descrisciption of the Core Review process is available on the Administrative Justice Office webpage.
The first deadline is Nov. 30 for the preparation of background papers for each of four specific projects, which will occur simultaneously:
- 1)Administrative Justice (Core Review)
- 2)Workplace Tribunals Review
- 3)Human Rights Review
- 4)Agency Appointments Policy
The remaining phases and deadlines are
Feb. 28, 2002 for preparation of a White Paper containing detailed recommendations for changes to the law and practice;
April 30, 2002 for completion of public debate and input about the recommendations in the White Paper;
June 30, 2002 for a review of how government can ensure the competency of the people it appoints, and how tribunals can be made accountable for carrying out their duties; and
August 31, 2002 for a final report to government on implementation of the results of the process.
Alan Winter's review will deal with changes to the WCB appeal system long before the Administrative Justice Project is finished. The discussion paper floats the idea of combining the appeal tribunals for
various work-related laws, such as employment standards, labour relations, human rights, and WCB. However, Alan Winter has said that he opposes this, and so do nearly all worker advocates. On the whole, it seems unlikely that the Administrative Justice review will end up having any effect on workers' compensation.
4) The Red Tape Reduction Task Force
This process is being conducted by Kevin Falconer, Minister of State for Deregulation. According to the government's web site, the first two phases are:
"Ministers complete a count of all regulations and requirements by October 1st. The results will give us a picture of the volume of regulation in British Columbia and a benchmark against which we can measure our progress.
"Ministers develop three-year plans for each government ministry to carry out the commitment, which will include more comprehensive review, reform and streamlining as well as elimination of requirements.
WCB, which enacts health and safety regulations under Part 3 of the Act, was asked to count up all the action words in the regulations. Apparently each verb counts as one regulation, and the Board will be
asked to eliminate one third of them over the next three years. Senior WCB officials recently stated that the Board had a couple of employees counting verbs all summer (slow readers, I guess).
This deregulation mania may lead to a new opportunity for unemployed writers: instead of "plain language" experts, government will need "deverbing specialists" (people who can say the same thing with fewer
The impact of deregulation on WCB may be deflected by Alan Winter's legislation and policy review. If he recommends removal of the Board's responsibility for enacting health and safety regulations, the Ministry
of Labour will have to do the deverbing.
Community Legal Assistance Society