Platform for Change: Worker’s Compensation must be Public

by Greg Snider with thanks to John Rae and Steve Mantis

Workers deserve to be compensated when injured in the workplace, of that there can be no debate.  After all, every province and Territory in Canada has some form of Workers Compensation Law.  The same is true of every industrialized nation.  The question we face today is how we best provide workers with compensation for injuries suffered while at work.

Today we will look at who should administer the program and who should deliver the program.  Before determining who should administer or deliver the program we must first decide what basic elements are needed for Administrator or Delivery Agent.

The first requirement is a fair process.  The process must be implemented in a non-biased way.  The Administer must be able and willing to obtain the funds need to provide Compensation to all eligible workers, while still maintaining an interest in keeping cost down.  They must be able to establish and maintain a dispute resolution mechanism that is fair.  They must be able to hear on an equal basis the words of an isolated and disparaged worker and that of an experienced and confident Lawyer.

The good news when deciding who can best meet the goals set out above is that there are several examples of how they are administered now.

In Texas employers are allowed to opt out of the State’s Workers Compensation provided they give their employees compensation for workplace injuries.  Walmart chose this option.   Under the Walmart self-administered and provided system injured employees are required to see a Walmart selected doctor, appeals are heard by a Walmart selected arbitrator and the eligibility criteria is determined by Walmart alone.  Clearly this system meets the need of the employer for low costs but it has not even the pretence of neutrality or fairness for workers.

Many states have chosen to use private insurance companies to provide workers with compensation for the cost of struggling through/with a workplace injury.  This system has created a situation in the United States where the cost of administering the programs by employers have increased and the benefits being issued to injured workers is decreasing.  The problem here is one inherent in the profit based insurance business, profit.  Insurance Companies have historically done a poor job of keeping the cost of Benefit Providers down, thereby increase to cost to the employer.  While at the same time making it hard for workers to qualify for benefits as these cost would eat in to the company’s profit margin.  This Results in a system that meets none of the criteria put forward, though representing a more balanced system then the first option.

The final option is to have one that it administered and provided by the Government.    This was the recommendation of Judge Meredith over a century ago.  Government has an obligation to its citizens. Its citizens being both the employer and employee.  This gives the government the freedom to provide Compensation Benefits to Injured Workers based on their injury without bias or profit intruding on decision making.  Any good government that listen to all of their voters makes effort need to those less able to be heard.

So why do we have so much trouble with our current system?  Sadly, it is safe to say that the Government run systems have been working better than the alternatives.  Regardless of how much is wrong with WSIB, and there is much wrong, the employer still doesn’t have complete freedom in determining what will be covered and what will not.  We may not have a truly fair appeal system but at least a pre-tense of neutrality.   WSIB, despite all of its actions to the contrary, WSIB still proposes to be following the Meredith Principles.

Why is WSIB so determined to sell something so untrue?  There can be only two reasons: 1) the brain trust know they are morally wrong and do so out of guilt or 2) They have a fear of the silent moral majority/minority finding out the truth and taking electoral action. Under either of these points, we can hope that the current state of the Government system is now at it’s worst and that its best may not be so far distant in our future. It is up to us to keep fighting for a better compensation system for all injured workers.

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