Workers compensation bill draws union criticism

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Other occupations seek better access to WCB coverage for PTSD

By: Megan Sarrazin | Posted: Wednesday, Jun 06, 2012 06:00 am

A government bill aimed at making it easier for first responders to claim post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is facing criticism for failing to acknowledge other vulnerable workers.

The proposed Workers Compensation Amendment Act introduced last week by Dave Hancock, Minister of Employment and Immigration, makes PTSD a ‘presumptive’ illness for first responders including firefighters, police officers and paramedics.

“When you name particular [jobs], you automatically eliminate thousands of others,” said Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). “Restricting it to certain jobs is the wrong way to go about it.”

Although the amendments are a “good first step,” he said they fail to recognize that the illness is present in a variety of occupations dependent more so on the working conditions.

“Anybody potentially can experience a traumatic situation,” he said. “There’s environments all over the place where workers are exposed to traumatic events and situations.”

Current rules require employees to prove that their illness is a result of job-related duties before a claim is accepted by the Workers Compensation Board (WCB).

Shawn Friedenberger, communications advisor at WCB, said the process is the same as any other claim, requiring individuals to tell their employer, doctor and WCB.

“In the case of PTSD, the most challenging component is confirming the diagnosis as doctors follow a pretty precise diagnostic process,” he said via email. “Once the diagnosis has been confirmed … we make sure the trigger that caused the PTSD was work-related and pay any benefits needed.”

This process would remain in place for all occupations excluding first responders, who would not have to prove the trigger was work-related.

WCB records indicate that there were 22 approved claims of PTSD since the beginning of 2010 — only six of which were claimed by first responders.

The remaining cases were claimed by workers in a variety of fields, including transit operators, social workers and accommodation services managers.

Kevin Grabowsky, regional president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said he is concerned that correctional officers weren’t included in the amendment.

“If you look at everyone that they’re putting into this act – firefighters, EMTs, police officers, peace officers and sheriffs – well, we’re all of that in one job,” he said. “We’re the first responders to everything that happens inside those penitentiaries.”

Grabowsky spent 33 years working in correctional institutions and said there is no reason correctional officers should be excluded.

“We walk the meanest streets in Canada because everybody is a bad guy,” he said. “We play certainly a big part in public safety and we see a lot and deal with a lot of bad things.”

He said the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers is looking at the next step to advocate for correctional officers and have them included in the amendment.

Social workers are another vulnerable occupation that would like to be included in the Workers Compensation Amendment Act.

“[Social workers are] going into situations that are quite volatile and violence is possible, so I think it makes sense to put our profession on the bill,” said Lori Sigurdson, representative with the Alberta College of Social Workers (ACSW).

She said many social workers have a large caseload, which puts an increased demand on already scarce resources.

The government’s move towards zero-based budgeting threatens this demand further, she said, adding it will put further stress on social workers.

Sigurdson said the ACSW has discussed the amendment and is working with several other groups to obtain better access to PTSD coverage.

Smith said individuals who are not listed in the bill and are experiencing a similar situation to first responders could potentially make a claim that the legislation is discriminatory.

Debate on Bill 1 will continue when the legislative session is resumed in the fall.

Any one with half a brain could have predicted that this would happen. Only a moron would introduce a bill providing discriminatory presumptions to a specific group of workers which includes only first responders and excludes all other workers. This moronic legislation began when an MLA by the name of Richard Magnus introduced a private members bill giving presumptive status to firefighters for certain cancers, followed by presumptive status for firefighters specific to heart attacks while excluding all other workers who had much higher risks than firefighters for cancers and heart attacks. The problem with exclusion by designating a specific occupational group to receive special benefits while excluding all other occupational groups results in discrimination. To combat the insanity of exclusion, a private members bill has to provide presumption for all workers which was the original intent of the Meredith Principles and placing the entire burden of proof to the contrary on the “Board” who has the financial means of acquiring the knowledge specific to causation. Placing the burden of proof on a worker is a breach of the agreement between workers and employers that formed the basis of the Meredith Principles when they went from a civil system to an administrative system that was supposed to place the entire burden of proof onto the “Board” . Instead of having claims adjudicated under administrative law, claims are adjudicated under civil law where the worker becomes a plaintiff rather than a victim with the “Board” being the defendant and the employer being represented by the “Board” who pays bonuses to Case Managers to have claims denied based on the deliberate false medical opinions of the “Boards” network of dishonest medical advisors who the Alberta Government protect by legislation specifically Section 34(4) of the Alberta WCA where a doctor’s opinion even if they admit they lied, cannot be sued unless it can be proven that the medical opinion was based on malice rather than financial gain.

Introduction of Section 34(4) of the Alberta WCA does indicate that the Alberta Government is complicit in protecting WCB’s network of doctors who are not held accountable or responsible for providing knowingly false medical opinions for financial gain.


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