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Winter 2006

Compensation Benefits Court Calls WCB Policy “Patently Unreasonable”

“They were told that policy was illegal but it is only one of a million ways they screw over the workers,” —Sarah O’Leary

From Tradetalk magazine
By Michel Drouin

Back in the good old days (pre-2002), permanently disabled workers received workers’ compensation disability pensions for life. However now, once you've reached the age of 65, you will receive a $3,000 retirement payout and that’s it.

Sarah O’Leary, a specialist in WCB appeals at the Health Sciences Association said that the cut of disability pensions at age 65 is serious.“They were told that policy was illegal but it is only one of a million ways they screw over the workers,” O’Leary said.

Prior to reaching 65, you will receive just 90% of your net wages.

If you’re severely injured, you’ll qualify for a CPP disability pension. But the price for this extra support will mean that you only receive 50% of your B.C. compensation benefits.

Disability pensions used to be indexed to the cost of living and reviewed every six months. Now it is adjusted once a year, and not to the Consumer Price Index but to 1% below the CPI. Every year, your compensation will slip a further percent below the cost of living. In 10 years, you have the potential to lose 10% or more of your pension with the changes that were made.

What’s more, regardless of how high inflation is, your pension is capped. No matter how high inflation goes, you will never get more than 4% added to your pension.

O’Leary said,“Every one of these changes results in a lot of money saved for employers.” Summing up, she said, “So your pension is less, it is for a shorter time, it is de-indexed and it is going to have CPP clawed back.”

Those receiving pensions before June 30, 2002 were not supposed to be affected by these changes.

It should come as no surprise that problems associated with injury or disease get worse as permanently disabled people grow older.These people have always been allowed to apply for an increase in their pensions to reflect their increased disability. However, the Liberal government-appointed WCB board of directors changed the rules. Anyone who received a reassessment after June 30, 2002 is covered by the new system. Benefits are now lower.

It gets worse. Criteria for receiving compensation are so limited that the majority or people never qualify. More likely than not, your claim will be thrown out altogether. In 2006, only 27 injured workers qualified for loss of earning pensions. In 2002, before the changes, 927 claims were accepted. Serious injuries have not dropped that significantly.

Inching forward to a return to justice
A recent B.C. Supreme Court decision forced WCB to reverse one of the compensation reductions.

The case concerned a Mr. Cowburn, who is dying of asbestosis which he contracted while working in a pulp mill years ago. He had previously been awarded a disability pension calculated at 28% (meaning the illness had resulted in damage to 28% of his body) or $800 a month. However, in recent years his disability worsened.

Mr. Cowburn was re-assessed, and the compensation board found he is now 59% disabled.The problem for him is that now he is 65. Under the new rules, if he had just been diagnosed, he would have received no pension for his debilitating condition. Even so, the reassessment portion, coming after 2002, meant he was not going to get one penny more than his original $800 a month. Mr. Cowburn challenged this.

In May, the court sided with Mr. Cowburn saying that denying his increased pension was unfair.The court said that the board could not refuse to cover pensions as they were applied under the old system just because they wanted to save money. It said the board’s policy was “patently unreasonable” and that the policy could not stand. It was precedent setting.

As a result,WCB has had to reassess all injured workers who were cut off when they reached 65. Unfortunately, all the other cuts remain.

“But that was only one small part of a whole brutal assault on workers compensation,” O’Leary added.“The Liberals have raided and dismantled the compensation system. No person of conscience could do this to the permanently disabled.

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