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Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Labour to go after better injury benefits

"the general public remains blissfully unaware"

CBC News
Organized Labour in the province wants injured workers to get more money. Labour leaders say the workers compensation system is too strict and should pay out more.

The N.B. Federation of Labour unveiled a new video at its annual meeting in Saint John Tuesday. It's part of a campaign to change the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The federation says the system has become unfair to workers and now benefits mostly the employer.

Workers compensation was originally designed as a no fault insurance plan. Workers gave up their right to sue employers in return for protection against loss of income because of an on the job injury. Labour lawyer Jim Stanley says that was the original deal.

"That deal, I think, now is being changed significantly, without people really coming to grips with what was the traditional arrangement here. What was the understanding? Because at the end of the day employers are going to have to come to grips with something. In my opinion, workers compensation is the cheapest liability insurance in the country. It doesn't get any cheaper," he says.

The McKenna Liberals brought in changes that reduced and, in some cases, cut off benefits altogether. The Liberals said workers were abusing the system. Federation president Blair Doucet says any abuse was grossly exaggerated.

"For every person who abuses the system, there's a thousand more being abused by the system," he says.

The federation wants benefits increased but the CEO of the Workers Compensation Board, Doug Stanley, says any changes will have to come through legislation.

"The board has a responsibility for making recommendations to the government on legislation in the area of occupational health and safety and workers compensation, but it's up to the board to decide whether or not they are going to support those changes," says Stanley.

The Federation of Labour believes the Compensation Board can easily afford to increase benefits. Since 1993 its income has exceeded expenses by more than $146 million.

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