Viewpoint: Improvements to Workers Compensation Act long overdue

This summer, our government has taken action to provide the most significant improvements to the Workers Compensation Act (WCA) in more than two decades. The current pandemic has highlighted the need for modernization, for stronger occupational health and safety protections and a more balanced workers' compensation system. The bill we passed this summer drew on several expert reports that had feedback from employers, workers, as well as experts in workers' compensation systems.

Imagine for a moment you are a worker who has been exposed to traumatic events on the job and you develop a post-traumatic stress disorder but are told that your WorkSafeBC claim has been denied because more than one year has passed since the onset of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms. The changes we've made to the WCA will recognize the complexity of mental health claims and make the system fairer for workers with the courage to come forward with their injuries that aren't always visible to others.

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Imagine you are a family member seeking a sense of closure after losing a loved one to a workplace fatality. This bill strengthens the ability of WorkSafeBC to investigate workplace safety infractions by including powers of search and seizure of evidence through the WCA. It also permits the court to accept victim impact statements, giving a voice to injured workers and family members during the sentencing portion of a workplace safety prosecution.

Or, imagine you are a nurse, a grocery clerk or a police officer working with the public every day and you contract COVID-19 at work. You would want - and deserve - some assurance that you would be able to quickly access workers' compensation benefits when you need them. These changes will allow those who contract COVID-19 at work to quickly access benefits.

These are examples of the measured, thoughtful improvements we've made that strike a balance between improving protections for workers and showing sensitivity to the challenges faced by businesses as we seek to recover from the sweeping effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I understand the financial pressures employers are facing right now. That's why we chose modest improvements to better support injured workers and their families, and enhance WorkSafeBC's ability to investigate workplace incidents, while keeping premiums low.

For too many years, all MLAs of all political stripes have heard from injured workers and their families that the system lacks fairness and doesn't focus on the needs of injured workers. For most of the last two decades in BC, government policy focused on the rights of employers, at the expense of the workers who are the foundation of our economy. I was disappointed to hear employers and opposition MLAs speak against these modest changes that will improve fairness for injured workers.

I believe it's important for a responsible government to strike a balance between the rights of workers and the needs of employers while always protecting the health and safety of workers. I am committed to making workplaces in BC the safest in the country and with these changes, we are taking important steps to do just that.

Harry Bains is the provincial minister of labour in BC.

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