UCP bill would roll back labour changes, create Heroes Fund

By Catherine Griwkowsky November 9, 2020

A new piece of UCP legislation aims to scale back the compensation workers receive if they’re injured on the job — and end the requirement that companies rehire them.

These are among the changes in Labour Minister Jason Copping’s new omnibus bill, Bill 47, Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, which was tabled last Thursday.

The legislation would roll back NDP-era changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS Act) and the Workers’ Compensation Act, which the labour minister said “led to rising costs, additional red tape, and has put the [workers’ compensation] system’s future state of sustainability in doubt,” Copping said.

Starting January 1, 2021, The bill would reinstate a maximum insurable earnings cap for injured workers, which the NDP scrapped in 2017. That affects higher-paid workers, like those in construction or the oil and gas industry.

The bill would also allow the Workers’ Compensation Board to set future cost of living adjustments, rather than rely on the consumer price index to set the rate at which injured workers are paid.

Moving forward, presumptive coverage for psychological injuries will only be granted to firefighters, police officers, peace officers, paramedics, corrections officers and emergency dispatchers.

“Under the UCP’s bill, if a social worker and a police officer both respond to the death of a child, the police officer would be covered and the social worker would not be,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley said in a news release.

The UCP said the changes will reduce red tape and improve the business environment in the province, spurring investment.

The move to not require employers to rehire injured workers will help small contractors who can’t necessarily afford to create new positions and establish an “employment balance between injured and non-injured workers,” Alberta Construction Association executive director Ken Gibson said, adding that 95 per cent of workers are rehired anyways.

The bill would also transition fairness reviews, appeal advisory services and medical panels from the Fair Practices Office and Medical Panels Office to other organizations as of April 1, 2021. The government hopes that move will save $2.5 million.

‘Heroes Fund’ for first responders
Bill 17 would also create a Heroes Fund to grant one-time, tax-free payments of $100,000 to families of firefighters, paramedics and police who die as a result of their jobs.

The province already pays out $90,772.20 in a lump sum benefit to families of workers who die on the job.

The first responders’ hero fund budget is $1.5 million per year for three years.

From 2010 to 2019, 106 first responders died as a result of their jobs, 90 per cent of which were firefighters who died as a result of occupational illnesses.