The Workers Compensation Board (WCB) of Prince Edward Island is extending mandatory workers' compensation coverage to workers on farms.
“As a long-time farmer, I understand the concerns and reservations that the industry might have about mandatory coverage,” said Stuart Affleck, chair of the Workers Compensation Board. “I was pleased to be part of the panel discussions and consultation with the farming industry. It was important to meet with various boards, employers and workers and to hear their thoughts, clarify some misperceptions and to receive valuable feedback from the farming sector on how we could help them through this transition.”
In 2012, a legislative review advisory committee was appointed to review the Workers Compensation Act. One of the recommendations from the report advised the WCB and government to consult with the farming industry to discuss their inclusion under the workers' compensation system. This would ensure that the farming industry would have similar protection to other workers in the province.
The board took the following year and a half to consult with the farming industry to discuss the transition from optional to mandatory coverage under the Workers Compensation Act. As part of the consultation process, a five-person panel, which included representatives from the WCB and the agricultural sector, was created. The panel held consultations across the province with vital stakeholder groups to provide information, answer questions, and listen to opinions.
“Previously, farming employers on Prince Edward Island were not required to have workers' compensation coverage; it was available on a voluntary basis,” said Luanne Gallant, acting CEO of the WCB.“ This meant that farm workers were not afforded the same protection as workers in other Island industries.
Farm workers are at high risk of experiencing workplace injuries. While good data on agricultural injuries is difficult to find, Canada’s agricultural industry has among the highest fatality rates of any Canadian occupation. In the absence of mandatory coverage, costs related to workplace injuries are shifted from the employers onto farm workers and their families who must cope with wage loss and medical expenses. The impact of excluding farm employers from workers compensation can be costly for both the farm worker and the farm employer.
The WCB exists to protect workers and employers through a sustainable no-fault injury insurance program. It provides benefits and services to workers following workplace injuries and protection to employers from liability. Farm rates have shown a downward trend since 2011 resulting in lower rates for the majority of farm sectors, with accident costs being the driving factor.
Mandatory coverage for farmers under the Workers Compensation Act will come into effect Jan. 1, 2017. Until then, farm employers are still able to register for optional coverage under the Workers Compensation Act. As requested by farm employers, there will be a comprehensive information and education process which will be delivered during the transition period, in advance of the implementation date.
Photo: REUTERS/Chris Helgren