WorkSafeNB needs to focus on injured workers says opposition parties

New Brunswick's opposition parties are calling for WorkSafeNB, a Crown corporation to do its work as an independent board and allow the focus to be returned to helping injured workers during this week's Political Panel.

CEO and senior staff salaries, premiums to business focus of this week's Political Panel

This week's Politcal Panel focused on what Auditor General Kim MacPherson said about WorkSafeNB. (CBC)

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New Brunswick's opposition parties are calling for WorkSafeNB, a Crown corporation, to do its work as an independent board and allow the focus to be returned to helping injured workers during this week's Political Panel. 

People's Alliance Party leader Kris Austin says the auditor general's report clearly shows upper management at WorkSafeNB is overpaid and under performing. 

"That's the bottom line," Austin said.

The panel continued to discuss Kim McPherson's Auditor General's report, focusing on WorksafeNB and the perceived conflict created when the Liberal government appointed an assistant deputy minister to the job of board chair and made it a full-time position.

When asked if the Liberal government should have appointed the board chair and created the perceived conflict, Roger Melanson, president of the Treasury Board of New Brunswick, didn't answer the specific question, instead answering that it would follow the recommendations McPherson made in her report.

Board credibility questioned

But Moncton Northwest MLA Ernie Steeves of the Progressive Conservatives said the appointment of a former assistant deputy minister did put into question whether the government was operating separately from the board.

"It calls into question the credibility of the board I would say. The minister says that their following the legislation but there's another part of the legislation that says it's a part-time job and they put in a full-time person for this," said Steeves. 

Melanson said WorksafeNB has significant challenges in both paying benefits to the injured workers and keeping rates competitive for businesses at a rate where it's acceptable. 

"When we took office, that was something that was being put in front of us and we understand that we need to deal with that." 

Auditor General Kim MacPherson released her first of two performance audit reports on WorkSafeNB on June 12. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

In her report, McPherson found the salary of WorksafeNB was 40 per cent higher than provincial deputy ministers, and enjoyed a more generous vacation, health and government car package. It also noted senior staff claimed meal and mileage expenses that were more generous than what most provincial public employees claim.

At the same time, premiums to businesses were raised and Steeves said this brings into question what kind of value are taxpayers getting for their tax dollars.

"Is it appropriate? Is it just making it top heavy again in another area of government?" Steeves asked.

Focus on real work

NDP leader Jennifer MacKenzie agreed, saying it was time to focus on the real work of WorkSafeNB and helping injured workers and their families without delays rather than having to deal with petty political interference.

"I think we need a whole different approach with safety at work," said MacKenzie 

The focus of the June 21 Political Panel is on the Auditor General's report on WorkSafe NB 43:16

The report on WorksafeNB also pointed out the strategic plan was inconsistent and incomplete, something Austin said shouldn't have happened. 

"At the end of the day, it's a complete mess." 

Melanson said he hopes the tough decisions that need to be made will be done by the board of directors. 

"They have a responsibility to be efficient, they have a responsibility to offer the appropriate services to the injured workers, but they also have the responsibility to have a competitive rate the business community can afford and still be competitive."