Safer workplaces, better outcomes for injured workers and operational and financial improvements have left Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) in its strongest position in decades, according to WSIB chair Elizabeth Witmer.
Witmer's comments came during the WSIB's annual general meeting for stakeholders in Toronto, and the release of the board's 2016 economic statement detailing its operational and financial performance.
The agency announced a five per cent reduction on the average premium rate for 2017, totalling $250 million left in the Ontario economy through lower premiums. The rate reduction comes after brisk progress in paying down the WSIB's unfunded liability.
"After reaching a high of $14.2 billion in 2011, the (unfunded liability) today has been reduced by more than half to $5.6 billion," president and CEO Tom Teahen noted.
The five per cent reduction is an average figure. In 2017 and beyond, employer groups showing positive performance in health and safety outcomes, as well as in the number and cost of new claims, will see a decrease of up to 14 per cent in their rate compared to 2016, as economic conditions permit, said the WSIB.
Teahen credited the WSIB's turnaround to several factors, including better outcomes for injured workers, higher than anticipated premium revenue and safer Ontario workplaces leading to fewer claims. He said that recent examples of enhanced supports for injured workers include the WSIB's administration of legislated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) coverage for first responders, stronger support for firefighters suffering work-related cancers and linking benefits to inflation.
The Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups protested the meeting, saying that by reducing employer premiums, the WSIB is taking $250 million out of compensation payments to impoverished injured workers and giving it to corporations.
"It's horrifying that the WSIB is reducing employer premiums at a time when their policies are causing so many injured workers to go into crisis," said Catherine Fenech, with the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups.
The group set up a lemonade stand at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (where the meeting took place) to highlight the message that the “WSIB is selling us lemons.”
Last November, several psychologists came forward to call for the Ontario Ombudsman to investigate how the WSIB receives the opinions of treating health-care providers. And, in June, over 140 doctors, legal clinics, immigrant rights groups, labour organizations and community members signed an open letter calling for changes at WSIB.