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Labour federation gives WCB middling grade on safety

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The Manitoba Federation of Labour released its 2013 Workplace Health and Safety report card Tuesday, giving the Workers Compensation Board in Manitoba a grim overall grade of C.

Eight subject areas were examined and graded by the MFL, which represents 96,000 workers in Manitoba.

A grade of F was given in the area of "putting a stop to claims suppression." That grade was based on a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request by the MFL that showed "no employers have been penalized under this section", 19.1 of the Workers Compensation Actl, since 2011.

At a press conference, the MFL called for sweeping changes to the WCB rate model citing an external review by Paul Petrie commissioned by the Manitoba government that showed injured workers are being denied fair compensation.

"The external review found that the WCB rate model is encouraging employers to suppress injury claims, denying fair compensation to many injured workers," said MFL president Kevin Rebeck. "Claim suppression is already illegal. We need the WCB to enforce the law, and to change the incentives that encourage this illegal behaviour in the first place."

Rebeck said last year 39 Manitoba workers lost their lives as a result of their work and another 31,018 were injured on the job and there were more whose injury reports were suppressed.

Spokesman Warren Preece said the WCB has begun to take action on the Petrie report’s recommendations with new initiatives announced Sept. 13 such as a new centralized Compliance Unit, which will focus on investigating claims of suppression.

"We’ve been responding. It’s very challenging to get the right combination of a complainant, a witness and enough information to lay a penalty that withstands scrutiny and defence," Preece said.

Rebeck said the report card shows that "Manitoba has a lot of work to do if we want to do right by injured workers."

The MFL report card also revealed that one in four Manitoba workers do not have WCB coverage, which is the third-worst coverage rate in Canada and that many injured workers are being sent back to work prematurely because the WCB return-to-work policy is not consistently being enforced.

On the positive side, the WCB in Manitoba received A grades in the areas of financial stability and its governance/accountability model.

Preece said other WCB initiatives include a comprehensive review of the assessment rate model over the course of the next 18 months, the creation of a Serious Injury Support Worker position to provide free and confidential services to injured workers and an outreach program to vulnerable workers such as those for whom English is a second language.

"We are examining various files such as abandoned claims where there is an initial claim, we go back to check and don’t get a response back from the worker that filed it in the first place," Preece said. "We’ll be looking for anything that might indicate claim suppression is taking place."

Larry Boyko, business representative with the Sheet Metal Workers Local 511 union, said employees become afraid to report an injury if the culture of the workplace is focused on rewards for hours of non-injury.

"People won’t report, they don’t want to be the bad guy," Boyko said. "We’ve had complaints within the manufacturing (workers) where the employer challenges every case, no matter what the facts are, and even bringing them back (to work) prior to what the doctor is telling them."

The full report card can be viewed at www.mfl.ca.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 5:35 PM CDT: Adds reaction

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