NWT MLAs want auditor general to probe WCB
“I think it can benefit Nunavut workers as well”
A northern politician wants workers injured in Nunavut to tell the country’s auditor general about their difficulties in dealing with the territory’s workers compensation board.
Bill Braden, an MLA in the Northwest Territories legislature, said making claims for workplace injuries should be easier for Nunavummiut after a full-scale review of the NWT and Nunavut Workers Compensation Board.
Braden made a breakthrough earlier this month in his long-standing quest to convince the government to investigate the WCB’s internal operations. On March 10, Braden and other regular MLAs passed a motion asking the Auditor General, Sheila Fraser, who is the top government watchdog in the country, to conduct the review.
“I thought the only way to get credible answers was to call in the auditor general,” Braden said. “I knew I could get some action on behalf of NWT workers. I think it can benefit Nunavut workers as well.”
Braden accuses the WCB of being confrontational in their dealings with some workers who are trying to get compensation for injuries.
Braden said the WCB’s current practice is to side with employers, instead of workers, when they make more complicated claims, such as complaints of repetitive strain injuries.
He said their current administration tends to worry more about keeping their insurance fund topped up to pay for other cases.
“They’ve had a strong adversarial attitude,” Braden said. “They’ve had more of attitude that they have to protect the WCB and the insurance fund, instead of going to work for the workers.”
For more than four years, seriously injured workers have told Braden about many cases where WCB management allegedly ignores or denies their claims. Some workers have worked in Nunavut, and now live in Newfoundland.
They’ve complained of huge delays, according to Braden. Sometimes, workers have filed paperwork, appealed decisions, and waited for more than 10 years to find out the WCB again rejected their case.
In some cases, they’ve also complained about being asked to prove the competency of doctors in evaluating their injuries, he said.
In other cases, they’re being denied an appeal by the same people who rejected their original claim.
Braden said these stories, plus a report published almost four years ago, pushed him to call for the review.
Regular MLAs in Nunavut supported Braden’s move in a motion on March 18. Cabinet members abstained from the vote.
Olayuk Akesuk, Nunavut’s minister responsible for the WCB, said he was looking forward to hearing the auditor general’s findings.
However, he defended the board’s work, adding that he’s not convinced the review will find flaws with the board.
“They’re doing a great job in both Nunavut and the Northwest Territories,” he said.
The WCB was one of the only NWT government jurisdictions that wasn’t split when Nunavut was created. The agency, which operates independent of government, now shares a board made of members from both territories.
In 2004, the WCB dealt with 1,544 claims from the NWT, and 725 from Nunavut.
In 2001, a government-appointed panel recommended an immediate independent review of the WCB, based on the consistently critical testimony they received from workers.
Dave Grundy, spokesperson for the WCB, said they’ve made most of the recommended changes, which he referred to as “house-keeping” matters.
However, the WCB isn’t resisting further scrutiny.
“We have no issues with it,” Grundy said. “Any time there’s an audit, it can only be helpful to an organization.
“We’re confident they’re not going to find anything of concern.”
MLAs expect the review to take about four months. They cautioned that workers shouldn’t expect the review to resolve their individual cases.