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Merit Saskatchewan wants province’s WCB brought up to date

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by Peter Caulfield

Merit Contractors Association of Saskatchewan says the province's Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) needs an overhaul. According to the association, the November 2016 release of the report of the Saskatchewan Workers' Compensation Act Committee of Review (COR) presents the province with the opportunity to modernize the board.
Merit Saskatchewan wants province’s WCB brought up to date

"The recent Saskatchewan throne speech outlined the government's plans for transformational change in our province," says Karen Low, Merit Saskatchewan's executive director, in an announcement. "Reforming and modernizing the WCB would be a key way to deliver such transformational change and would benefit both Saskatchewan workers and employers."

The COR, which takes place every five years, was mandated to review the act, its regulations and the administration of both.

The committee received more than 70 written submissions and hosted public consultations in cities around the province.

"Throughout the consultations, it became clear that many of the underlying problems that were identified with Saskatchewan's workers' compensation system all trace back to the need to reform and modernize the governance structure of the WCB itself," says Low.

As soon as the problems dealing with the board's governance have been dealt with, other reforms and improvements can proceed, she says.

Low says the board as it is currently structured is inefficient and flawed.

"It is time to focus on fixing problems at the core, rather than trying to paper over ongoing issues, which are merely the symptoms of the larger problem," she says.

The Saskatchewan WCB is governed by a board of three individuals: An employers' representative, an employees' representative and a chair.

All three work full-time for the WCB and make up the board's appeals tribunal.

"These individuals might be seen not as directors, but as employees, embedded right in the WCB system," says Low.

The current board lacks the breadth of experience and skills that are necessary to meet the needs of Saskatchewan's increasingly diverse economy, she says.

"In other provinces, the WCB draws upon a wider array of talent and perspectives," she says. "Their boards have from eight to 11 part time directors to deal with the various challenges of the workers' compensation system."

Low says some provinces that are smaller than Saskatchewan with less complex economies have larger boards to address the tasks of workers' compensation.

"The insular and closed world of the WCB needs to be opened up," says Low. "The WCB could benefit from wider perspectives and experiences of board members from different walks of life."

But, on the other hand, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) thinks the existing three-person board with its labour-employer-chair composition is fine the way it is.

According to the SFL's written submission to the COR, "Ensuring compensation and appeals decisions are made in-house (emphasis added) by an accountable board of directors is necessary for the process to maintain its legitimacy from the perspective of injured workers.

"In our view, the current board structure and mandate — complemented by well-resourced and highly-trained support staff — are more cost-effective than any third-party appeals system, and ensures consistency in decision-making. Any outsourcing of the board's work to a third-party or external process is inconsistent with the history of the WCB in Saskatchewan and would be strongly opposed by the SFL."

Terry Bogyo, a B.C.-based independent workers' compensation researcher, says there are no hard and fast rules for an effective board governance model.

"They can change from time to time as conditions change," he says. "You need to be flexible."

Bogyo says a board of three is the usual minimum.

"You'll need people with specific skills, such as actuarial, medical, rehabilitation and perhaps others," he says.

Bogyo says a board larger than, say 12, becomes unmanageable.

"The ideal is probably between six and 10, but that depends on the specifics of the organization and its needs," he says.

The COR made a total of 11 recommendations, one of which was "to modernize board structure to reflect the diversity of skill sets required to guide the work of the WCB."

Other recommendations were the development of a "customer-centric" service delivery model; strengthening the psychological injury policy regarding post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health coverage for workers; and establishing an employer resource centre to help employers navigate the workers' compensation system.

Three of the recommendations would require changes to legislation.

The WCB is currently reviewing the report's recommendations, says Carolyn Van der Veen, WCB's director of communications.

"Further review is required before an implementation plan can be fully developed," says Van der Veen. "It will be into the new year."

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