WorkSafeNB will meet with employers and injured workers' advocates Wednesday to wrestle with the rising costs of benefits, which helped drive a 33 percent hike in employer-paid premiums this year, with more increases to come.
The meeting in Fredericton is one of many planned with stakeholders, the Crown corporation says.
"This is an issue that cuts right across the employment community," said Joel Richardson, who plans to be there on behalf of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.
"If they're seeing more and more claims being made by employees and longer duration of claims, and that's driving up costs, then we're expecting to hear what WorkSafe is planning to do ... to bring those costs under control."
Tim Petersen, WorkSafeNB's acting president and CEO, said about 120 people were invited to the meeting at the Fredericton Convention Centre and he's expecting more than half to attend.
He called it an opportunity for both sides to get together and talk.
"My hope is that we can get people to understand the need for balance," he said.
Petersen said workers need to hear about the impact of higher premiums on employers, and employers need to understand what workers need in terms of protection.
Advocates for injured workers and union representatives have already pointed out that even with this year's sudden increase, premiums in New Brunswick are much lower than they were in the 1990s and are still among the lowest in Canada.
The 2017 rate is $1.48 per $100 of assessable payroll.
In 2010, it was $2.08 and in 1991 it was $2.40.
"There's something wrong with that picture," said Tom Barron, a longtime consultant to injured workers.
Barron said business owners should be ashamed of wanting to pay even less.
"It's sort of greedy, isn't it?"
Costs going up
WorkSafeNB has reported that a number of factors are driving up costs, including the complexity of cases and an aging workforce.
It has also projected $87 million in additional costs as a result of benefit changes stemming from external sources such as decisions by the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal.
Barron said those tribunal decisions have really served to restore justice to the system.
"There's at least five decisions around benefits being paid to injured workers and the pension fund of injured workers," he said
"The appeals tribunals have in fact told [WorkSafeNB], you have not being applying the legislation that was proclaimed in January 1993. You've been using your policies to undermine the legislation to deprive workers of benefits, pensions, and medical treatments."
One question that won't be answered Wednesday is how much premiums are expected to change in 2018, although the corporation has indicated they'll continue to go up.
"If current trends continue, we will most likely see further increases in 2018 and beyond," says the invitation to the meeting with stakeholders.
Rates for next year won't be set until September.
Meeting not accessible to all
While WorkSafeNB has yet to work out where and when it will hold future meetings, Pauline Diotte suggested it come north.
As a former employee at the Campbellton Regional Hospital, Diotte said she injured herself in 2012 as a result of lifting patients.
She sits on an injured workers advisory committee that meets every three months but she won't be present on Wednesday.
"No one ever invited me to this meeting at all," she said.
"I can't afford to go to Fredericton and spend $400 to voice my opinion to these shareholders.
"Come to the north shore and introduce yourself."