The B.C. government will make some changes to workers’ compensation legislation in the next few months, but it will leave finishing the job for later.
Labour Minister Harry Bains said he has four reports and a stack of recommendations to consider. The most recent, which he received in October, is a major report from retired labour lawyer Janet Patterson, who was appointed by the government to review the system and recommend changes to make it more worker-centred.
Bains said some changes are coming during the current session of the legislature, which is scheduled to end in May, but they won’t be based on the Patterson report.
"This session we’re looking at acting on the recommendations of some of the previous reports based on the stakeholders’ input that we received," Bains said. Any action based on the Patterson report would come after it’s made public and stakeholders provide input, he said.
The Workers Compensation Board, or WorkSafeBC, is mandated to promote safe and healthy workplaces, support rehabilitation of people injured at work and provide compensation to replace lost wages.
It’s funded by premiums paid by employers and investment income. Both employees and employers give up the right to sue in exchange for a predictable no-fault method of determining how much support an injured worker is entitled to.
The BC Federation of Labour is among those saying the system has been out of balance since 2002, when the former BC Liberal government made changes that favoured employers. "In the 18 years that have followed, the situation has devolved from bad to worse," the federation said in its submission to the Patterson review.
The Tyee has reported on workers who feel the system is rigged against them and find themselves engaged in long fights with WorkSafeBC for the support they believe they should get.
A spokesperson for WorkSafeBC has said that while there’s room for improvement, 82 per cent of workers in 2019 rated their overall experience with the agency as "good" or "very good."
There’s also the 2019 report from Vancouver lawyer Lisa J. Helps titled WorkSafeBC and Government Action Review: Crossing the Rubicon on the Burns Lake and Prince George sawmill explosions that occurred in 2012.
The government has consulted stakeholders on those three reports, Bains said.
"We are looking at the recommendations that came back through the consultation process." WCB is already in the process of making the changes that it can, and the government will act with any needed legislative changes soon, he said.
But acting on the Patterson report will take longer.
"The Patterson report, we’re still examining it, and we will be releasing it publicly soon," Bains said. "It’s a big, thick report, I can tell you that. It’s over 100 recommendations, so it will take some time for me to really take a look at it."
After the government makes the report public, there will be further engagement with stakeholders, Bains said. "The process is I analyze it, then we make it public, then get the response from the public, their input, then decide to act or not to act on the recommendations."
The goal is to make changes to the system that increase the confidence of both workers and employers in it, said Bains.
"At the end of the day, I just want to make sure the workplaces are safest in the country in the province, and we’re working on it," he said. "Also, that it’s more worker centric so that workers feel that they are treated with respect and dignity when they are navigating a very complex WCB system and help them... return to their pre-injury job as soon as they can."
Kevin Love, a lawyer with the Community Legal Assistance Society in Vancouver who works on workers’ compensation cases, told The Tyee this month that changes to the system are overdue and should be made based on Patterson’s review and recommendations.
"We’re very hopeful that the government will act soon to make changes to the system that are so badly needed," he said, "however we are concerned that there’s a report out there by an expert in workers’ compensation, who was hired to review the system and make recommendations, and… that hasn’t been released to be part of the process of making the system better."
The Tyee sought transcripts of the public hearings held in 14 communities as part of the Patterson review, but the ministry responded to a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by saying it has no such records.