Nurses’ union president Debbie Forward speaks at the statutory review of the workers’ compensation system in St. John’s Tuesday morning. Forward was pushing for tweaks to the system, and more money for injured workers. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
Workers’ compensation advocates were out in full force Tuesday, pressing a government-appointed panel on ways to expand and tweak the system for people injured on the job.
Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses’ Union president Debbie Forward said that one of the major issues within her union is that the workers’ compensation system just doesn’t pay enough when a nurse is injured on the job.
“We are so far behind the rest of the country that when you really look at the numbers, it gets to be quite embarrassing in some ways,” she said. “For a registered nurse who’s on the top scale — which are the majority of our members — if that individual is off on workers’ compensation, they will receive approximately 50 per cent of their salary when they’re off on workers’ compensation.”
The workers’ compensation statutory review panel is struck every five years to review legislation and regulations around the system and to make recommendations to improve things.
On Monday, at the start of the three-day consultation session in St. John’s, the statutory review panel heard from a series of employers’ groups calling on the government to make workers’ compensation rules more strict. On Tuesday, labour groups, politicians and individuals presented a different picture.
Presenters painted a picture of a system giving injured workers low payments, with long delays and an arbitration system that leaves workers vulnerable to having their benefits cut off.
Fish, Food and Allied Workers’ union president Earle McCurdy, speaking about his own industry, dismissed employers’ concerns, saying they’re just focused on the bottom line.
“All I’ve heard from them is, how do we crack down on claimants and cut down on costs?” McCurdy said. “To be blunt about it, if they spent half as much time promoting healthy and safe practices in the workplace as they do fighting compensation claims by their employees, we’d have a safer industry.”
Nancy MacLean, speaking for the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said one of the problems it runs into is that many workers don’t know what their rights are, and what they’re legally required to do when they’re injured on the job.
“It’s extremely common. People don’t know what their legal responsibility is when it comes to filing or (reporting) injury in the workplace,” she said.
Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons also had some issues when it comes to legal requirements.
He said one of the biggest complaints he hears is that the Workplace Health Safety and Compensation Commission, which runs the system, is breaking the law.
The legislation says that if an injured worker applies for a formal review of their case, they should get a decision from the review commissioner within 60 days.
“That’s not being followed. I’ve got more than one constituent that is still waiting at least eight months to have their matter dealt with,” Parsons said. “They’re breaking their own legislation.”
New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael also presented to the statutory review panel Tuesday, and she had complaints about the review process too. She said by the time an injured worker gets to that point, they’re entering into what’s almost like a court process, but they usually can’t hire a lawyer to represent them.
“Everything is on the line for them, and they’re usually living in very dire straits by this time,” she said. “They’re coming to their MHA because they feel desperate.”
The statutory review continues at the Ramada Hotel in St. John’s today.