May 25, 2023

Merrill O’Donnell Workers AdvocateCHRIS GARDNER, president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA), wrote an op-ed in the Journal of Commerce on Dec. 21, 2022, taking the B.C. government to task for trying to fix the workers’ compensation system. Gardner also criticized the BC Federation of Labour for encouraging the B.C. government to implement Janet Patterson’s New Directions: Report of the WCB Review 2019.

According to Gardner, the 2019 review of WorkSafeBC was a one-sided consultation process which victimized employers. He pretends to reveal a secret when he tells us that Patterson was one of the three co-authors commissioned by the BC Fed back in 2009 to recommend sweeping changes to the broken workers’ compensation system. Gardner then characterizes Patterson’s “expensive and confrontational recommendations” as coming right out of the BC Fed’s playbook and as resulting from an unbalanced public consultation process. He complains that the “very stakeholders who provide all the funding for the agency — entrepreneurs, small business and company owners” were not meaningfully consulted.

Right out of the gate, Gardner is confused about the source of WorkSafeBC funding. Premiums are paid by businesses and are drawn from business profits. Profits — more properly called surplus value — are the “cream” skimmed off workers’ toil, whether physical or mental, by businesses. That means workers’ compensation is funded by businesses — employers and workers — not by employers alone.

And is Gardner seriously claiming the business community was not consulted about the WCB system? The facts show otherwise.

First, with the exception of the recent progressive changes made to the Workers Compensation Act by the B.C. NDP government, we are still living (and suffering) with the 2002 statute essentially written by a business-friendly lawyer who had represented employer groups at the Royal Commission on Workers’ Compensation in British Columbia. The draconian and egregious changes that flowed from his pen received no public consultation whatsoever. What did the business community say about that? Nothing.

Fast forward to Patterson’s review. Patterson, a longtime labour lawyer, was commissioned by the B.C. government to conduct an impartial review with wide consultation. In addition to stakeholder meetings, she heard from more than 200 workers, employers, family members and unions in fourteen public hearings. Another 1,980 people completed questionnaires and 174 participants wrote submissions. Unfortunately, after being informed about this wide consultation, the employers forum, including the ICBA, deliberately withdrew from the review en masse and refused to engage in consultations on any topic.

Patterson’s report was issued to the B.C. government on Oct. 30, 2019. It is the product of meticulous, painstaking listening and analysis by someone with more than two decades of legal practice in WCB matters and experience at the highest levels of WCB.

The fact is that many employers did not — and still do not — want to be consulted on the WCB system. Rather than consultation, they want to ward off, upset, and ultimately eviscerate even the remotest whisper of change to their so-called “world-class WCB system.” They have no appetite for bringing workers’ interests to the table, however fair the consultation process. Their real concern is that Patterson’s review might bring real change.

By Merrill O’Donnell
Workers Advocate