CFIB blasts proposed WSIB changes <!--sponsoredarticle-->

Mandatory coverage for construction workers could cost Ontario firms $11,000 on average: CFIB

Ontario’s newly appointed Minister of Labour has proposed legislation that could cost construction firms an average of $11,000 annually in additional Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) premiums, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

The changes proposed by Labour Minister Peter Fonseca would make WSIB coverage mandatory for all individuals working in the construction industry, except handy persons.

Despite receiving 25,000 faxed responses from Ontario business owners strongly opposed to the proposed changes, Fonseca put Bill 119, an amendment to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, forward for its first reading at the end of October.

“I was really quite disappointed,” said Judith Andrew, vice-president of legislative affairs for Ontario for the CFIB and one of three CFIB representatives who delivered the 25,000 responses to the minister.

“For someone who is really just a few days on the job, who didn’t bother to consult with anyone… he seemed very cocky,” she said. “Our discussions with him were disturbing because he didn’t seem to have any answers to our points. Not only that, I wasn’t even sure he understood the points.”

The legislation should help address the underground economy in Ontario’s construction trade, which includes about 84,500 people and costs all levels of government $2 billion in lost revenue, said Fonseca in an address to the legislature.

If passed, the bill won’t come into effect until 2012 in order to give the WSIB time to develop systems to support the changes.

“(It) would extend mandatory workers’ compensation coverage to independent operators, sole proprietors, partners in a partnership and executive officers of corporations in the construction industry,” he said. “I can tell you that there are individuals within the construction industry who declare themselves as independent operators or some other declaration, like executive officers, but the fact is that they are working on these construction sites and they’re not insured. We want to make sure that their health and safety is taken care of, that they are insured.”

The Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA) said it is in favour of mandatory coverage as a way to level the playing field.

“The problem with the way the system operates right now is that 61 per cent of the construction industry is paying 100 per cent of the premiums,” said David Zurawel, vice-president of policy and government relations of COCA.

However, COCA feels changes are still needed to ensure the bill does not cause unnecessary hardship on small businesses in Ontario — 70 per cent to 80 per cent of constructions firms in the province are small- and medium-sized businesses, he said.

“There will be an added expense there in rates,” said Zurawel. “Hopefully whatever increase in expense that would be experienced would be offset with a reduction in premiums and program costs. If you do have a wider pool from which to draw your resources, then the overall cost for individuals should come down.”

But there’s a better way to address those cheating the system — a named insurance system where the WSIB has a list of names of insured employees for each company in order to prevent fraudulent claims from those not paying premiums, said Andrew.

The WSIB doesn’t know who it is insuring and that makes it easy to cheat the system, she said. “If they had the names, they could always reconcile that premiums are paid respective to certain employees and if one of them gets injured, find out if it is legitimate.”

The province is shelving the idea of a named insurance system “but this proposed legislation does allow for it in regulation,” said Fonseca. “It is something that I have asked about and it is still open to that.”

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