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Ross Mair
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Premiums will affect province’s ability to attract workers, says employers council

Richard Alexander, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council, presented to a room of employers the facts and numbers surrounding compensation premiums. Newfoundland and Labrador pays more than any of the other provinces in premiums, and that is affecting businesses.

Newfoundland and Labrador pays more than any other province in workers' compensation premiums and that is affecting the ability of the province's employers to recruit, train and retain employees.

 

This was the message delivered at a private workshop for employers by Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council executive director Richard Alexander at St. Jude Hotel Feb.8.

 

Alexander said the province has consistently been paying more in premiums for the last 20 years, but changes to the system are overdue and on there way.

 

"There are people in this province who qualify for benefits who would never, ever qualify in another province," said Alexander, who along with the council is working to find cost-cutting measures that still ensure the province's system can continue to be a leader in claims processed.

 

"We need to change the structure of the system. We're not saying we need to cut worker benefits, we don't want to cut people off the system, but we need to put structures in place that ensure if you have the most expensive system you have the most aggressive system in cost retainment," he said.

 

Figures provided by the council show the province paid $3.24 per every $100 in payroll in average assessment rates in 2000. Alberta's paid $1.10 while Nova Scotia was the closest to Newfoundland and Labrador paying on average $2.54.

 

In 2010, the numbers indicate the province is paying $2.75 to Alberta's $1.32, which shows a leveling out of the system, but the province is still pacing Nova Scotia which paid, on average, $2.65.

 

What this means, is employers in Newfoundland and Labrador and paying higher premiums than any other province, and have been for some time, preventing employers from offering competitive wages for in-demand workers.

 

This will have a profound effect in the skilled trades market, where Newfoundland and Labrador will be competing with Nova Scotia and Alberta to attract workers to its mega-projects."

 

"It makes it more difficult for employers to increase wages and compete with Alberta and those Alberta-style wages," Alexander said.

 

Nova Scotia will be ramping up its ship-building operations in the coming years while the oil sands will continue to be an attractive draw for many trades workers, putting added pressure on an already scarce labour market in this province.

 

"We've got a massive problem with this workers compensation system. It's not just an employer issue, it decreases employment in the province. The system has failed so we have to try something," Alexander said.

 

That something will be a page from the Dunderdale school of economics.

 

Alexander said the council is emulating the approach taken by the premier in scaling back operations, combining departments, and correcting redundancies within the council by uniting Occupational Health and Safety with the Workers Compensation Commission.

 

"It's a proven strategy to reduce costs. We believe if you combine those two departments, you will see a reduction in administrative costs," said Alexander.

 

As a coordinator with Total Care Nursing, Donna Hancock attended the meeting with the hope of finding out more about the system.

 

"One thing I didn't know, we have the highest premiums in all of Canada. We're also the ones with workers who stay off the longest. I don't think we're getting workers back in a timely fashion because we're not using the Early and Safe Return to Work (program)."

 

The problem Hancock was having involved finding a suitable place for an injured employee to return to the workforce. She found that in a lot of cases they were going to work in positions that were already filled. This created redundant positions to help ease people back into the work force, but employers were only being compensated for the one position.

 

She said with the help of the employers council, employers will be able to find ways of speeding up the process of getting workers into suitable positions while assisting those who cannot work.

 

"They can act as a go between. If we're having trouble, they can act as a resource to help speed the process along. If you call one of them, you get more action; they seem to push the claim along faster," said Hancock.

 

Sheila Kelly Blackmore, general manager of St. Jude Hotel, was also in attendance and said it's important for all employers to be aware of the problems and issues they may be facing in the coming years.

 

"(I went) to gain a bit of insight and understanding of the system and the issues, and to be able to participate in a forum where other employers would be sharing their knowledge and experience. From an employers perspective, I would have liked to see a lot more people engaged, but for those that were there, we all shared in a very worthwhile session," she said.

 

Blackmore added that knowing about the issues will make people feel more engaged, and because of that they will be able to be more active in bringing about positive change.

 

"The whole thing, for me, is looking at claims and the positive results the workplace health and safety objectives have had. We've had such a huge decrease in workplace injuries in Newfoundland and Labrador. A 174 per cent decrease (over the last 20 years) is quite remarkable. That's a result of workplaces taking a proactive role."

 

 

rmair@thepacket.ca

Organizations: Dunderdale school, Workers Compensation Commission

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta, Nova Scotia Canada

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