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Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta focuses more on policy than workers: review

File: Edmonton's Workers' Compensation Board of Alberta building.
File: Edmonton's Workers' Compensation Board of Alberta building. Charles Taylor, Global News

A review of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta has come forward with 60 recommendations for the government after finding the system often focuses more on the claims rather than the workers themselves.

Instead of decision-making that focuses on helping people with their injuries, illnesses or concerns, the system currently focuses on “efficient management of claims,” read a 189-page report released Thursday.

“Too often, it seems, the latter is given attention at the expense of the former.”

The report said there is a sense among workers that the system is “in the pocket” of employers, while many employers believe the system is “always on the side” of workers.

“The fact that everyone is equally unhappy does not mean that the system is doing a good job of serving everyone equally and impartially.”

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READ MORE: Alberta WCB review midway report: frustrating system needs improvement

Trust in the system must be re-established in order for it to work properly, according to the review.

The last comprehensive review of the WCB system was conducted more than 15 years ago. The system covers nearly 1.9 million Albertans working at over 160,000 employers throughout the province.

The majority of the 60 recommendations focus on changes aimed at re-establishing the fundamentals of the system.

“We are confident that these recommended changes will protect the future stability of the WCB, while ensuring that the needs of injured workers are addressed in a fair and transparent manner,” WCB review panel chair Mia Norrie said in a media release.

READ MORE: Workplace death in Lethbridge highlights importance of job safety: WCB

The report suggests allowing injured workers greater selection when it comes to choosing their health-care professionals. It also recommends the government set up an independent “Fair Practices Office,” to address disputes. The office would conduct regular audits of the system.

Labour Minister Christina Gray said in a media release the government is committed to reviewing the WCB.

“Our government will be reviewing the recommendations over the coming months before making any legislative changes.”

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The Progressive Conservative Party criticized the review, saying it recommends a number of costly changes that will ultimately fall on the shoulders of employers.

“Alberta’s job creators have seen their costs rise exponentially since the NDP took office and the WCB review panel’s recommendations will make it even harder to own and operate a business in our province,” PC labour critic Prab Gill said.

“The NDP assumes that Alberta-based businesses are flush with cash and can afford the mountain of extra costs that have been imposed on them,” Gill said.

“The reality is that many entrepreneurs and business owners are struggling just to make payroll and keep the lights on. Employers in Alberta simply cannot afford the extra costs recommended by the WCB review panel.”

READ MORE: Head of Workers’ Compensation Board in Alberta earned almost $900K in 2015

The Alberta Federation of Labour said it’s clear the WCB has lost its way and the review is a long time coming.

“Under successive PC governments, the WCB has lost its way, focusing more on keeping premiums down for employers than actually providing help and support to injured workers,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “With the current model, workers worry that if they’re injured on the job, they’ll be hung out to dry.”

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The AFL said it will work with the government on implementing changes.

“It’s important to all workers that we get these changes right,” McGowan said. “Albertans deserve the peace of mind that if they’re injured at work, they will have the support they need.”

The WCB review was launched in March 2016. It was done by Norrie, a human resources and labour relations consultant; John Carpenter, a partner with Chivers Carpenter law firm; and Pemme Cunliffe, in-house counsel with Covenant Health.

The full report is posted below: