The new chair of Ontario's workers' compensation board has assured the government that changes are underway aimed at attaining financial sustainability for the cash-strapped agency.
Appearing last week before the Ontario legislature's standing committee on government agencies, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) confirmed that it is on course to eliminate its 'unfunded liability' by 2027.
"We welcome the opportunity to describe the transformation of the WSIB to a modern, sustainable and accountable workplace insurance system for workers and employers — a system that is important to the economic growth and productivity of our province," said WSIB chair Elizabeth Witmer.
"The WSIB is indeed a highly complex agency, but at its heart, it has a critical, but simple mission: to help workers who are injured to return to work and to productive lives, and to protect employers from financial loss through a collective insurance plan," Witmer added.
The WSIB has made many recent improvements and reforms, and is committed to more transformational change following the Funding Fairness report from Professor Harry Arthurs. Implementing many of the recommendations of the report, coupled with the WSIB’s sound management, will result in a better, more responsive workplace safety and insurance system that is financially stable and sufficiently funded, the WSIB said.
"WSIB provides insurance coverage for some four million Ontarians and at any one time supplies benefits and services to five per cent of those — that’s 200,000 workers who need help,” said I. David Marshall, WSIB president and CEO. "The human cost to these workers and their families is substantial and the impact on the productivity of the province at a time when we are short of skilled workers can hardly be underestimated."
In 2011, the WSIB had its first operating surplus in 10 years, with revenue covering costs due to strong operational results, the agency said. A series of improvements have resulted in better service and ultimately getting more workers back to work safely. Some of these improvements include: in-sourcing Labour Market Re-entry and Return to Work improvements; a medical strategy to provide better, timelier care; and expanded eServices for better service and greater accessibility.
"The compensation, required by legislation, for a worker injured in Ontario is a good one," said Marshall. "It is comparable with all the other provinces in Canada. We are getting 91 per cent of all workers who were injured, back to work with no loss of pay within one year or less of their injury. So the system is working and delivers good value. We have a responsibility to the workers and employers of Ontario to ensure a financially sustainable system today and in the future."
Witmer said the WSIB's strategic plan shows the agency's commitment to change and to preserving a strong and sustainable workplace compensation system.
"There are tough decisions to be made not the least of which is a decision about our insurance premium for employers for the next few years. But I am confident we are moving in the right direction for the benefit of Ontario’s workers and employers," she said.
The unfunded liability represents the shortfall between the money needed to be in the WSIB’s insurance fund to pay the benefits owing workers and the money that is actually there. The government has legislated a three-stage plan for closing this gap. 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.
The Ontario legislature’s standing committee on government agencies is empowered to review and report to the House its observations, opinions and recommendations on the operation of Ontario government agencies, boards and commissions. At the two-day appearance before the committee, the WSIB heard submissions and answered questions from stakeholders and government representatives from all three parties.