Fix the Broken WCB System!

In Alberta, the principles on which workers’ compensation was established have long been sacrificed to the goal of making the monopolies competitive internationally and cutting employer premiums to the bone. The average length of time an injured worker in Alberta receives compensation has fallen from 58 days in 2002 to 34 days in 2015. Employer premiums, which are the lowest in Canada, have fallen every year for the past five years, and are now about half the rate of other provinces.

Attacks on the rights of injured workers are part of the neo-liberal austerity agenda which claims that the system of WCB is “not sustainable” as a pretext to make injured workers the target of brutal cuts. In Ontario, for example, the Liberal government passed legislation requiring the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to get rid of the so-called “unfunded liability,” resulting in cuts to benefits and a huge increase in claims denied.

WCB spends a lot of money denying workers’ claims. In Alberta, 2015 claims benefits amounted to only 73 per cent of the WCB’s total expenditures. This includes all benefits paid to workers plus payments to physicians and other health care providers, while 27 per cent was spent on administrative expenditures, including the vast system in place to find a pretext to deny workers their rightful benefits. While injured workers live in poverty, a “surplus” of $405 million was returned to employers. This amounted to about 40 per cent of employer premiums.

The WCB presents statistics on reduced employer premiums and shorter claim periods as proof that its safety and return to work programs are a success. But the direct experience of injured workers tells a different story. Claim suppression is widespread, and many injuries are never reported, or are reported as “no lost time” so that the employer’s premiums are not affected.

A significant number of claims are rejected by the WCB from the outset, nearly one in ten. Many injured workers find themselves without any means of living because their claims have been denied.[1]

In a speech to a meeting organized by the Canadian Injured Workers Association of Alberta, Rachel Notley, then in opposition, said that the workers’ compensation system was broken. Notley said the system was established nearly 100 years ago as an “historic compromise.” Workers gave up the right to sue their employers, and injured workers in return would not suffer a loss of income or be forced to roll the dice in the courts. The system is no longer a partnership she said, but an incredibly cheap system of insurance for employers. The Progressive Conservative governments have seen the Workers’ Compensation system as a cheap way for employers to do business, she said.

Notley said that in comparison to other provinces, workers in Alberta are less likely to be compensated, and when they do get compensation, it ends earlier. Claims for occupational disease, repetitive strain injuries and workplace-related stress and mental health are all less likely to succeed. Claims end much earlier because the WCB can make up a pretend job and tell a worker who is permanently disabled that they can work at this fictional job and is therefore not entitled to ongoing compensation. Many workers have no access to skilled representation to challenge these decisions.

There is also a growing reliance on medical evidence which is not actually medical evidence, Notley said. The WCB relies on doctors who provide opinions about people they have never met or examined, based on notes written by case managers.

Notley urged the workers not to back down and keep fighting. Injured workers think this is good advice, and are in turn urging Notley not to back down in the face of the powerful private interests who do not recognize the rights of workers.


1. The WCB 2015 annual report states that there were 3,327 claims where a review was requested in 2015; 2258 requests for review by the WCB Dispute Resolution and Decision Review Body (DRDRB); 830 claims appealed to the external Appeals Commission; and 346 decisions overturned at the Appeals Board. WCB calls all review requests which do not proceed to the next level as “resolved.” It doesn’t say whether the worker’s request for review was successful, whether the worker was satisfied, or the worker was not satisfied but gave up. This self-serving manner of reporting means we don’t know how many claims are unresolved.