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Leave workers’ comp coverage optional: KAP

Manitoba’s farmers shouldn’t have to take on mandatory coverage by the province’s Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB), its general farm group said Wednesday.

In a media commentary, Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Ian Wishart said the family farm is a “unique workplace” in comparison to almost all other industries and doesn’t warrant a “one-size-fits-all” approach to workers’ compensation.

The WCB said in February it would run a “broad consultation” with stakeholders on extending its mandatory coverage to industries and workplaces not already covered. A public comment period ended May 1, after which the board will issue a report to the provincial government with its recommendations.

Agriculture is on the WCB’s list, KAP said.

“It’s important to us to know what’s on the minds of our stakeholders before the government engages in a significant extension,” WCB chair Tom Farrell said in February.

“Farmers do currently have the option to take WCB coverage, and some farmers have found this to be an appropriate tool,” Wishart wrote. “However, other farmers have opted to subscribe to private insurance programs. KAP believes it should be a farmer’s decision to select the approach that works best.”

Wishart, who farms at Portage la Prairie, Man., said farmers’ focus has to be on continually improving safety, but he pointed to a 2004 report by Deloitte Inc. which he said found “no correlation” between WCB coverage and improved safety.

Several private programs also extend a worker’s coverage for 24 hours, as opposed to just the hours of work, and this can be a greater benefit to a farm worker than WCB coverage, he wrote.

“We think that voluntary self-assessments and assistance to develop farm safety policy plans are two positive approaches that work with the individual farm’s needs,” he wrote.

Furthermore, “agriculture is also in a time of change, and we don’t believe that now is the appropriate time to add WCB into the mix.”

Changes to the provincial Employment Standards Code have just been implemented for farm workers, and more certification programs for pesticide and manure applicators have also been put in place, he wrote. “With this increased training, we should expect fewer injuries on the farm.”

Extensions of WCB coverage wouldn’t be compulsory to self-employed individuals who don’t employ workers, the WCB said in February.

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