Panel makes 60 recommendations to improve system
In March 2016, Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray announced a three-member panel to take a comprehensive look at the province''s Workers'' Compensation Board and provide a review and recommendations on how to improve the multi-billion dollar institution.
This summer, Alberta Labour released the panel''s report in what was the first extensive appraisal of the provincial agency in 15 years.
"The panel''s objective was to dig deep into the board''s governance, its principles of compensation, policies and its overall effectiveness concerning Albertans hurt or made ill as a result of employment," said AUPE Vice-President Bonnie Gostola.
The 189-page report made 60 recommendations on how to improve the system, which covers nearly 1.9 million workers and 160,000 employers throughout Alberta.
"We''re pleased the report highlights the need to focus on a more ''worker-centred'' system, which would allow WCB staff to use creative options within the legislative framework in the handling of claims," Gostola added.
"Fulfilling the panel''s overall recommendations will require a long-overdue shift in the culture of the Workers'' Compensation Board."
One change that specifically stands out is a recommendation to alter WCB''s culture of denial by making changes to the way its Board of Directors is structured, including the removal of the WCB''s Chief Executive Officer from board membership.
"The panel found a certain culture of rejection within WCB through its policies and its support of claim denials through pay incentives," said AUPE WCB representative Randy Corbett. "Changes must be made at the top and to do that, focus needs to be placed on the way the WCB is directed."
The recommendation to establish a fair practices office, which would have the right to independently investigate complaints, is backed by AUPE.
"A recommendation to overhaul the role of medical consultants is also supported by the union," said Corbett. "This would stop the ability of the Board to overrule attending medical doctors'' assessments, and ensure fair consideration is based on actual medical grounds."
Vice-President Gostola added the obligation to re-hire workers at their date-of-accident work levels is a recommendation welcomed by AUPE as well.
While AUPE is pleased with many of the panel''s recommendations, there are some that did not go far enough. The cap on financial compensation for injured workers is a good example.
"No employee in the province should suffer financially because of a cap on compensation," said AUPE WCB representative Dennis Malayko. "All employers should pay their fair share of assessments in an effort to reduce the economic hardships felt by many injured workers."
The panel also failed to properly address predominant cause. The union would like WCB to better recognize and accept the many worksite conditions that contribute to occupational illness or injury.
AUPE would have liked to see further emphasis on the need for an urgent review of occupational disease, penalties on the employer expanded beyond paying an employee''s benefits upon unfair termination, and to have internal claim review procedures not directed by WCB''s operating division.
Minister Gray said the government will review the panel''s recommendations "over the coming months" before considering any legislative changes.