Alberta businesses challenge Workers' Compensation Board

A group of small businesses in Alberta is taking on the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) by promoting private insurance to cover injured workers, CBC News has learned.

The Progressive Group for Independent Business is made up of small business owners. They want businesses to opt out of the WCB because they say private insurance companies cost less and provide faster service.

"We're not saying we want to get rid of the WCB. The WCB needs to be there, but the WCB can't be the only option," says Joe Keunen who runs a trucking company.

By law, Keunen's 22 employees must be covered by Alberta's WCB. That costs him premiums of more than $20,000 per year. He says private insurance would cost $5,000 less.

"I see it as saving money and expediting the process," Keunen says. "I get a lot faster service with my insurance company for just about anything we deal with."

The businesses plan to blitz the province, and to use billboards, petitions and radio ads to convince both the government and other employers that opting out is good for business.

"I think we'll be very successful because we're just talking about common sense here," says Craig Chandler of the Progressive Group for Independent Business.

Chandler also says lower executive salaries would also make sense. WCB president and CEO Mary Cameron earns $355,000 per year, just after a $99,000 raise.

"I think its outrageous and a lot of employers are ticked off that their premiums are going into her pocket rather than going into the business bank account," says Chandler .

But WCB vice-president Guy Kerr points out, "We have some of the lowest premiums in North America, so I think that's the number they should look at rather than what any one individual gets paid."

Kerr says, besides low premiums, business owners should think about the fact that workers can't sue employers who are covered by the WCB.

The WCB monopoly can only be broken by the Alberta government. The premier says he's thinking about it.