Ontario WSIB’s unfunded liability decreasing: Witmer

Compensation board expects $1-billion reduction, estimated at $14.2 billion in 2012

Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) is expecting close to a $1 billion in reduction to its unfunded liability, pegged last year at $14.2 billion.

“We are obviously operating in a way that is much more fiscally responsible and accountable and so our unfunded liability, it appears — I don’t have the final numbers — that it’s down to approximately $13.3 billion,” WSIB chair Elizabeth Witmer told Canadian Occupational Safety magazine, a sister publication to Canadian Safety Reporter.

The news was shared with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) in a roundtable discussion Witmer had with its members on March 6 in Toronto, she said.

In addition to the reduction in its unfunded liability, Witmer said the compensation board has also achieved other financial gains.

“We have introduced much more fiscal discipline and accountability into our own administrative organization. We actually have now seen a surplus as far as our (operational) costs are concerned. In 2011, we had a little surplus, but I’ll tell you in 2012 we had a bigger surplus,” she said.

Witmer welcomed the dialogue with the stakeholders, pointing out part of her objective was to improve and strengthen relationships with the WSIB’s two groups of stakeholders — employers and workers.

“I really want to make sure, as we move forward to modernize the WSIB and to transform the WSIB, that it’s meeting the needs of the workplace today and the workforce today, that I get the feedback that’s necessary to enable us to be able to do that,” Witmer said.

In a statement, the CFIB said it welcomes the WSIB’s focus on reducing the burden of red tape on the province’s small businesses. At the roundtable, CFIB officials got a chance to talk to the WSIB chair, “on what they need and don’t need from her agency to run their business.”

The roundtable discussion was one of six the WSIB is scheduled to have with CFIB members across the province this spring. Witmer is also meeting with injured workers, labour groups and other employer communities in separate roundtable discussions throughout the year.

“Rising employer premiums and headaches that come from excessive WSIB regulations are making it harder for small employers to grow their business and create jobs,” said CFIB’s Ontario vice-president Satinder Chera. “Thankfully, with new leadership at the WSIB, there finally seems to be a willingness to address these concerns.”

A number of issues were discussed during the roundtable, including the WSIB’s unfunded liability which is “driving up premiums,” and Bill 119, which imposes mandatory WSIB coverage on business owners and contractors in the construction industry,  the CFIB said.

The unfunded liability represents the difference between the money needed in the WSIB’s insurance fund to pay the benefits to workers and the money that is actually there. The Ontario government has legislated a three-stage plan for eliminating the compensation board’s unfunded liability. Under the legislation, WSIB must reach at least a 60 per cent funding level by 2017, 80 per cent funding level by 2022, and 100 per cent funding by 2027.

Contrary to what some employers might believe, Witmer said the push to achieve zero unfunded liability by 2027 will not be done at the expense of the employers or the workers.

“We are not going to do that on the backs of the employers or the injured workers. We have an obligation to get our own house in order and we are doing that,” Witmer said.

According to the CFIB, the roundtables with the WSIB were initiated as a result of concerns among business owners that their issues were not being addressed by the WSIB, including rising premiums on their payroll to fund the system. A recent CFIB report on workers’ compensation systems across Canada showed Ontario scoring the lowest in the country on long-term financial sustainability and customer service.

Witmer said her organization has taken a closer look at the CFIB survey to determine the areas where the WSIB can improve. Some of the concerns brought up in the survey related to customer service, claims management, service delivery and the unfunded liability.

“We diligently went through (the CFIB) survey, took a look at all their concerns and I would say we are addressing them. Have we achieved all of the objectives? No. But, we have certainly gone quite a distance,” said Witmer, citing improvements to the WSIB’s service delivery model; enhanced medical strategy that is bringing down health-care costs; a greater focus on work reintegration for injured workers; and lower claims cost.

The WSIB has also introduced its e-services, where employers can now conduct transactions with the WSIB online, and is in the process of making changes to some of its forms to simplify the process, Witmer added.

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