The Toronto Star recently published a profile on David Marshall, president and CEO of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), whose tenure at the top of Ontario's workers' compensation board was just extended for two more years.
The newspaper labelled him the man injured Ontarians "love to hate" due to his focus on cost-cutting and other fiscal efforts. But does that label misrepresent the nature of changes at the WSIB, particularly if it implies its financial turnaround is at the expense of injured workers not other factors?
Over the past four years, Marshall and WSIB chair Elizabeth Witmer have been successful in tackling some of the Board's substantial financial challenges. He has reduced the WSIB's unfunded liability by several billion dollars (Source). He has also assisted in improving return to work rates for injured workers over the past 5 years, demonstrated by a 50% drop in the number workers not back to work after a year.
The Star also quotes Marshall as saying it is “the combination of fewer injuries, better return to work, better management of our investment fund and higher premiums than we need for day-to-day [that has the WSIB] well ahead of schedule to become fully funded by 2027." (Source)
This track record has made Marshall popular among the ruling Liberal party. A spokesperson for Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn stated:
“Over the last five years, David Marshall has led the WSIB through a significant transition toward improving outcomes for injured workers and returning the board to financial stability. He has refocused the board’s objectives in helping injured workers return to work, diversified the WSIB’s investment portfolio, and transformed its medical strategy, work transition and return-to-work programs.” (Source)
As a response to a critical Toronto Star editorial written by former WSIB chair Odoardo Di Santo in June 2014, a WSIB spokesperson wrote that financial improvements since 2009 have come from 3 sources:
Union and worker response to changes
Injured workers and labour leaders are far less complimentary, accusing Marshall of cutting costs on the back of workers struggling to get benefits. Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan is critical of Marshall, saying "“His job is to disqualify injured workers from receiving their rightful benefits.” (Source)
The article also quotes Catherine Fenech of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups who is also critical of the Marshall regime:
“We’ve seen a steady decline in the number of claims being accepted . . . and an increase in workers being told the board thinks they can go back to work no matter how badly injured they are.” (Source)
The Star also quotes John McKinnon of Injured Workers Consultants community legal clinic, who disputes the WSIB's claim that improved workplace safety measures have led to decreased workplace accidents and a 22% drop in benefits being paid out to workers since 2009. McKinnon states that the number of traumatic fatalities has actually gone up by 43%, up from 68 on-the-job deaths in 2009 compared to 97 deaths in 2013. He also claims there has been a 37% reduction in the recognition of permanent impairments since 2012. (Source)
What about the impact on employers?
There may some validity to injured worker claims that the WSIB is working to reduce benefit payments for long-term claimants and seems to have a new-found dedication to return-to-work efforts as a cost-cutting measure. But it could be argued that those changes are a welcome shift towards a more balanced approach after a decade or more of "pro-worker" policies that have escalated the Board's debt levels.
In addition, Clear Path's Anna Aceto-Guerin implores that it is important to consider these six significant changes for employers over the past years, all of which have contributed to improved financial results for the WSIB (and increased headaches for business owners and claims managers):
So it seems that although it may be popular to blame David Marshall and others at the WSIB as balancing the budget on the backs of vulnerable workers, a more comprehensive look at the issue demonstrates that the significant impact on Ontario's employers is likely a larger factor in the WSIB's turnaround.
Do you have questions about your WSIB claims costs? Contact us today or click here to learn how to take advantage of our incredible free NEER review offer. We look forward to speaking with you soon.
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