WSIB rebate controversy sparks review

Beleaguered WSIB chair Steve Mahoney has urged labour groups and employers to keep a cool head amid the controversy surrounding his agency’s employer rebate program. Labour groups, meanwhile, have called for Mahoney's resignation.
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board chair Steve Mahoney has urged labour groups and employers to keep a cool head amid controversy surrounding the WSIB’s rebate program. [Watch Steve Mahoney talk about the employer incentive program]

“My message to people is that everybody, both labour and employers, should calm down,” said Mahoney in an interview with Canadian Occupational Safety.

The WSIB has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks following a Toronto Star report that found the WSIB has been handing out millions of dollars in rebates to companies, even those that have been prosecuted and found guilty for safety violations leading to worker deaths and serious injuries.

In March, Mahoney said he would commence a review of the WSIB’s rebate process, called “experience rating” program, to determine areas for improvement. The agency also cancelled eligibility for rebate of companies involved in a workplace fatality.

“This is a program that was put in place 22 years ago, has never had a review, and it’s high time we did take a look at whether, and exactly how, it’s working and how we can improve it to make sure we target safety as the number one issue,” said Mahoney.

Mahoney said the review of the rebate program has not yet commenced, but that he expects his staff to come up with a recommendation on how to proceed with the review within the next two weeks.

The WSIB will set up an internal committee to spearhead the review process, and also look at the possibility of bringing in external consultants, Mahoney said.

“As far as I’m concerned, its good news. It’s an opportunity for the WSIB, in conjunction with our stakeholders, to review a program that, I think, has fundamentally been working. But there’s been a few flaws in the design that need to be corrected,” said the WSIB chair.

Labour organizations, however, said this flaw on the WSIB rebate program is not news to them nor to Mahoney.

In a letter to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, the Ontario Federation of Labour and Ontario Network of Injured Workers indicated that this issue has been raised with the WSIB for over a decade.

“In scores of meetings we have raised this issue of the flawed employer incentive system called, experience rating. The chair of the board has been aggressively defending the experience rating system since being appointed,” the letter said.

The labour groups then urged McGuinty to “fire the entire WSIB board of directors.” A recent Toronto Star report, however, indicated that the premier is not heeding the call for Mahoney’s resignation, and instead stressed the need to change the WSIB’s rebate policy. 

Mahoney said he expects the review of the rebate program to be completed by the fall.