The New Year ushered in many things, including new workers’ compensation legislation in Saskatchewan.
The Workers’ Compensation Act, 2013 became law in the province on Jan. 1, 2014.
Don Morgan, Minster of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety said in a release the Act is a positive step forward for workers’ compensation in the province.
“It increases benefits in a fiscally responsible manner and modernizes the language for ease of use.”
As part of the new legislation, there will be a number of new provisions. According to Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) CEO Peter Federko, the biggest impact of the new provisions is the maximum insurable increasing from $55,000 to $59,000.
“Anybody earning that, or in excess of that, will see their benefits increased by the difference. That extra $4,000 will go into the calculation of their benefits," Federko told the Times-Herald Thursday. “So, they'll end up with a little bit more of their take-home pay.”
In relation to the maximum, Federko also noted indexing provisions have been implemented.
“Prior to the passage of this act, the maximum insurable was a hard number right within the legislation,” said Federko. “That number could only be changed if the legislation itself was opened and changed.”
The last time the maximum was changed was in 2005. Going forward that number will be automatically increased annually.
For the next five years the maximum will continue to climb when – in 2019, it will represent 165 per cent of the provincial average weekly wage. Every year following 2019 it will be increased to ensure it stays at that number.
“That's a pretty significant improvement in benefits that workers are going to enjoy moving forward,” said Federko. “It prevents the need to open up the legislation to have that maximum changed.”
He admitted the new legislation probably would not have a significant impact on people that file claims, but the administrative penalty provision will allow the board to levy penalties on employers.
Prior to the new legislation, most cases would see employers fined a maximum of $1,000. Now, the board will have the ability to levy penalties of up to $10,000.
“Under the new legislation there is actually three levels of fines,” said Federko. “We can still go the reconviction route up to $1,000. We can levy something called a discretionary penalty, which is usually a percentage of the claims cost, or the premiums the employers pay to us, or we could go the additional step of our board issuing an order and levying an administrative penalty of up to $10,000.”
The board will have more free reign, including the authority to fine employers the WCB believes are chronic offenders.
According to Federko, the changes to the Act – rewritten in its entirety – were the result of a 2010 committee of review.
“It’s been in the works from a drafting perspective for about a year and three months,” he said.
While the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party (NDP) is glad this legislation is being introduced, it’s Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Critic David Forbes told the Times-Herald it’s long overdue.
“The work that was done in 2005 actually should have been a priority early on in this government's mandate, but has fallen off the radar and so we're glad to see it moving forward,” said Forbes. “We're disappointed though, that it actually took so long to see these changes come into play.”
Forbes also said the provincial government is “foot dragging” on the fine system, which he noted is falling behind compared to other parts of the country.
More importantly, however, Forbes noted WCB should only be used as a last resort.
“The thing that I would really want to emphasize is we need to do so much more to stop accidents before they actually happen,” Forbes said. “This is why the fines are so important, to get the changes happening in the workplace, so our workplaces are safer.”
Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow her on Twitter @liewicks