By Angela Hall
December 9, 2011
REGINA — A committee reviewing the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Act is recommending that the not-for-profit insurance system apply to all employees in the province with no exclusions.
The change, if implemented, would be “a very major shift in the workers’ compensation system in Saskatchewan,” said the 85-page report, which was submitted this week to the minister of labour relations.
The current system provides injury prevention, compensation, medical care and rehabilitation for injured workers, with the costs borne by employers who are covered by the act.
But a number of industries and occupations are exempt from the act, including farming operations.
The committee that was struck to undertake the review of the legislation said that, as of 2009, more than 30 per cent of workers in the province did not have coverage.
“Many exclusions may have come about for historical reasons that are no longer relevant in the industrial structures of the 21st century. Agriculture is a case in point,” the committee writes.
“Most agricultural production is now part of the global economy and is undertaken on a large scale very different from the traditional family farm. Workers are doing paid jobs in a sector where serious injuries and even fatalities are, unfortunately, not rare.”
The report cites statistics from the province’s occupational health and safety division (OHS) that indicated about 14 work-related deaths occur in farming and ranching each year, with the agricultural sector accounting for more than one-third of all work-related fatalities.
The committee also noted that it heard from employers who are currently exempt from WCB coverage and feel their needs, and those of their workers, are met by using private insurance. But the committee said it is concerned with limitations of private insurance, including that some employers may not provide it because it isn’t required.
“Lack of WCB coverage means that uncovered employers are burdening the general medical system with health care costs that covered employers must pay for, thereby creating an uneven playing field,” the report adds.
It was not immediately known what the impact of the recommendation will be, should the government choose to implement it. The Ministry of Labour Relations indicated Friday that all workers would be need to be covered by workers’ compensation if the change were to be accepted, meaning farmers would be included.
Meanwhile, Peter Federko, chief executive of the WCB, said his initial reading of the committee’s report, as it pertains to farmers, suggests that all employers in the farming industry would be required to cover their employees. It’s not clear to him that the rule that gives self-employed people the option of being covered by WCB would change, he said.
Marilyn Braun-Pollon, vice-president of prairie and agri-business with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the extension of the WCB system to cover all employees in the province raises concerns, particular for agri-business members.
“It doesn’t recognize the unique seasonal nature of the agriculture sector,” said Braun-Pollon.
While farm businesses can opt into WCB coverage, those seeking coverage often find private insurance is more comprehensive for that sector, she said.
“That’s an issue that’s very worrisome to us,” said Braun-Pollon, who noted she had not yet had an opportunity to read the full report released Friday.
In all, there 57 recommendations.
Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Don Morgan said in a news release that ministry officials will begin a review of the recommendations early in 2012. By law, the workers’ compensation program must be reviewed by a committee every four years.
Roslyn Kunin, former chair of WorkSafe BC, chaired the committee, and six people from the mining, manufacturing, construction and health care sectors made up the rest of the committee’s membership.
The full report can be found online at www.lrws.gov.sk.ca.