The Manitoba Federation of Labour is giving the provincial Workers Compensation Board a failing grade when it comes to helping injured workers, saying employers are abusing the system by discouraging workers from filing claims.
The federation's latest workplace safety report card says employers continue to abuse Manitoba's workers' compensation system by telling employees to stay quiet and return to work while hurt.
That's because companies with low rates of reported injuries are rewarded with lower workers' compensation premiums, federation president Kevin Rebeck said Tuesday.
"People are intimidated or people feel pressure from their co-workers not to report an injury so that their workplace looks good," Rebeck told reporters in Winnipeg.
"Claims suppression's already illegal, and we need the WCB to enforce the law and to change the incentives that encourage this illegal behaviour in the first place."
'I just kept going to work,' says employee
Tim Cashion of Winnipeg suffered severe burns to his foot while he worked at a chemical company two years ago, but he said he didn't file a workplace injury claim because he did not want to upset his bosses or colleagues.
"I just kept going to work," he told CBC News.
Cashion said workers at the company were rewarded for toughing it out.
"There's sort of a culture of just not reporting and having little parties and doing little giveaways for a year of no lost time, or two years of no lost time," he said.
"I wouldn't have thought that things like a steak or a jacket would actually make people think twice about reporting claims, but they do."
No employers fined in 7 years
The labour federation obtained statistics through the province's freedom of information law that show no employers have been fined in the last seven years for suppressing an injury claim.
That's despite an independent report done for the NDP government earlier this year that confirmed suppression is occurring.
The report also recommended a sharp increase to the $450 fine levied against offending employers.
The NDP government has promised to act on the report and has said a new strategy will come this fall that will target claim suppression.
Rebeck also called for other changes, including a revamped assessment system.
Instead of basing premiums on the rate of reported injuries, the rates should be based partly on how much companies invest in safety initiatives, he said.
"We've been advocating and proposing for some time that a lot more weight be given to actual prevention programs that make workplaces safer," Rebeck said.
Board focusing on education
The Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba says it is stepping up efforts to encourage employees to come forward and file injury claims.
Board spokesperson Warren Preece told CBC News that officials been dealing with complaints of claims suppression by educating employers and workers.
"We go out and respond every time that we hear a complaint, and we go to the workplace and we try and educate the workforce and the employers about the responsibilities around reporting and the rights workers have if they're injured at work," he said.
Labour Minister Jennifer Howard has been working with employers, labour groups and the Workers Compensation Board to address the issue, according to a provincial government spokesperson.
Howard will release a strategy later this fall "to stamp out claim suppression practices in Manitoba," the spokesperson stated in an email.
The labour federation gave the compensation board an F grade in stopping claims suppression and a D in percentage of workers covered. It gave the board an overall grade of C.