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Man. WCB urges broader worker coverage

Manitoba’s Workers Compensation Board (WCB) supports broadening of mandatory workers’ comp to several sectors where it’s now optional, but has stopped short of recommending farms or any other business be added, the province reported Tuesday.

Provincial Labour Minister Nancy Allan said the province accepts the WCB report’s recommendation to broaden mandatory coverage and plans to review it to determine a schedule for expansion of coverage.

WCB communications director Warren Preece said the report was “non-specific in its recommendations,” although it outlines the risk factors and expected contribution rates in a number of non-compulsory industries including farming, hatcheries, greenhouses and livestock markets among others.

“Farming, in all or part, is compulsory in every jurisdiction except
Manitoba,” the WCB said in its report, adding that some jurisdictions cover only a part of the ag industry.

“Farm workers are at high risk of sprains, strains, tears, bruises, and
fractures from working with machinery and livestock,” the report said. “They also
experience occupational illnesses from exposure to grain dust, chemicals and fertilizers. Farming also has a very high fatality rate.”

Out of about 4,800 farm employers in the province, 514 now have voluntary WCB coverage, the report said.

Keystone Agricultural Producers, the province’s general farm organization, had urged the WCB during its consultations earlier this year to keep WCB coverage optional for farmers.

“Farmers do currently have the option to take WCB coverage, and some farmers have found this to be an appropriate tool,” KAP president Ian Wishart wrote at the time. “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 agreed 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.

In its report, the WCB also cited an unnamed provincial hog farmers’ group as having argued that private insurance offers superior coverage and that workers’ comp would be an added cost of doing business.

Two farms also made submissions to the WCB in its review process, the board said. One supported mandatory coverage, the other didn’t, and “both expressed concerns about
determining the status of workers in this often seasonal and part-
time work environment,” the WCB wrote.

“Gaps” a concern

In his letter to Allan accompanying the board’s report, WCB chairman Tom Farrell said that while many employers have private insurance plans, “our concern, however, is that gaps in coverage exist for some Manitoba workers who are injured on the job whereby they may not receive benefits.”

Furthermore, Farrell wrote, “broadening the base of compulsory
coverage would help to eliminate the cost advantage that some
employers enjoy, where some must pay WCB premiums while others
can elect not to pay.”

Broadening the base of mandatory WCB coverage would also ensure “a more equitable sharing of the costs of preventing, treating and
compensating workplace injuries,” he wrote to Allan.

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

CLARIFICATION, June 13: An earlier version of this article stated that the WCB report specifically recommended broadening of mandatory coverage to include all industries outlined in the report. The report recommends the province broaden mandatory coverage but does not specifically recommend it be expanded to all sectors discussed in the report, farming included. regrets any confusion.

Range of expected charges for mandatory workers’ compensation coverage, if legislated for Manitoba farm-related industries, per $100 of assessable payroll

Farming $2.44 to $2.75
Farm-related services $2.44 to $2.75
Beekeeping $2.45 to $2.75
Animal services* $0.39 to $0.44
Greenhouses $0.39 to $0.44
Poultry hatcheries $2.45 to $2.75
Livestock markets $2.44 to $2.75
Veterinary services $1.46 to $1.65

Source: Extending Workers Compensation Coverage report, Manitoba Workers Compensation Board, June 2008.

* — Includes kennels, boarding facilities or
stables; operation of a riding academy, horse exercising, training or racing; and pet breeding, pet sitting, pet training, pet
washing/grooming and pet waste removal.

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