Canada

Millions returned to employers with WSIB changes: Minister

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Employers across Southwestern Ontario could see some cash back and a reduction in future premiums next year thanks to proposed changes to Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board system.

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The Ontario government plans to introduce legislation this fall that rewards safe employers with a reduction in WSIB premiums next year, potentially even returning a portion of the WSIB’s $6.1 billion surplus.  

“It’s   good news for employers coming out of the pandemic and it’s good news for workers because   their benefits are going to be protected,” said Labour Minister Monte McNaughton.

To start, employers paying WSIB premiums could see a reduction of five per cent next year, or about $168 million.

The change won’t necessarily affect all employers, McNaughton said: benefits will go only to “safe employers,” based in part on their record of lost time injuries.

“If you’re a bad actor and don’t have strong health   and safety record, you’re going to pay higher premiums. If you invest in health and safety you have lower WSIB premiums,” he said.

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“With that in mind, there are going to be literally thousands   of employers in the Windsor Essex region that are going to see premium reductions.”

According to figures provided by McNaughton’s office, there are as many as 3,925 employers in Windsor that could benefit from the changes, and up to 17,795 employers in Southwestern Ontario — including Oxford, Norfolk, Middlesex, Chatham-Kent, Essex, Lambton, Elgin, Huron and Perth.

Across the region, about a third of those employers are in construction, followed by agriculture, retail and hospitality.

The proposed legislation also creates a mechanism for WSIB surpluses to be redistributed to employers, which isn’t currently allowed.

It would mandate surplus returns at 125 per cent, with the option to return at 115 per cent. The WSIB surplus currently sits at 119 per cent, or about $6.1 billion.

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That could mean as much as $3 billion returned to employers, but that will depend on WSIB board decisions about when to distribute the funds  — now, or when the fund reaches a maximum 125 per cent — and whether they are distributed through one-time premium reductions or lump-sum payments.

The WSIB surplus has been building over most of the last decade, after years of underfunding left it in shortfall. The shortfall was eliminated in 2018 ahead of a 2027 deadline.

Workers’ advocates said they’d like to see surplus funds invested back into benefits, not paid out to employers.

People who get hurt at their jobs are people giving their bodies in service of the economy,” said David Newberry, community legal worker with the Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic.

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“For these people to be nickel and dimmed by WSIB, even in a moment when they have billions of extra dollars sitting around, is absurd and insulting.”

Newberry said his organization found reductions in paid out in worker benefits over the last decade, especially to those with long-term or permanent injuries.

Now, they’d like to see better funding of occupational disease and mental stress injury claims; the loss of earnings rate restores to 90 per cent from 85 per cent; and better benefits for loss of retirement income when workers are off the job among other changes.

McNaughton said the proposed legislation applies to surplus funds above 115 per cent and there is no change to worker benefits.

He said he hopes it boosts businesses in pandemic recovery, citing it as essentially a “tax cut” for businesses.

“If passed  it  will begin to return billions of dollars back to businesses so they can invest in health and safety programs, give their workers pay increases and create jobs in local communities.”

[email protected]

twitter.com/KathleenSaylors

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