Alberta Workers Compensation Board poised to give back more than $500 million to employers

Posted on May 08, 2014, 2:07 am
7 mins

Alberta Workers Compensation Board officials ready shipments of money to send back to employers. Actual WBC staff may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk and now-official Tory leadership candidate Ric McIver, who gave up the K in his first name for the benefit of all Albertans.

The Alberta Workers Compensation Board is poised to give back more than half a billion dollars in employer contributions thanks to an unexpectedly good year for its asset-liability management activities.

Leastways, so says a slide prepared for a meeting the month before last of the Industry Task Force Association, made up of a score of large industry employers who are responsible for more than half the premiums paid to the Alberta WCB and who employ close to half the workers covered by the organization that administers injured workers’ compensation in the province.

According to the slide, the WCB generated an asset-liability management surplus of $778.6 million in 2013, putting the organization $632.3 million over its budget for the year.

As a consequence of “favourable investment results from very strong global equity markets,” the WCB’s preliminary results indicated, the Board “had year-end investment income of $890.4 million, $478.5 million above its budget.”

So WCB operations have a funded ratio of 132.8 per cent, the slide also noted, which reflects “the strong results from both Operations and Asset-Liability Management and includes a surplus distribution of $512.8 million” – in other words, the give-back to WCB employers.

For those of you who like me don’t know much about this kind of stuff, asset-liability management, known to accountants as ALM, is the practice of managing risks caused by mismatches between assets and liabilities, as the always helpful Wikipedia explains it. Hedged bets, anyone?

Regardless, my guess is that Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk – whose portfolio includes the WCB, in whose mysterious ways he once counselled injured workers through a company he had set up – would be just as happy if this information didn’t surface until after the Legislature had stopped sitting.

Or, perhaps not. Maybe it will be a point of pride to him that the WCB’s investors did so well on his watch – an estimated return of almost 11 per cent is nothing to sneeze at by anyone’s standard – notwithstanding the apparent deficiencies of its investment prognosticators.

For all I know, that might be a good thing with Mr. Lukaszuk poised to enter the contest to become the replacement for fired premier Alison Redford.

The Tory leadership process became a real race yesterday, by the way, when former infrastructure minister Ric McIver as predicted joined former municipal affairs minister Ken Hughes as an officially declared candidate. Finance Minister Doug Horner has said he will let us all know by the end of the week, although he could as easily endorse party favourite Jim Prentice, a banker who most certainly would understand the value of sound ALM.

Regardless, readers are entitled to wonder what’s wrong with giving employers back a portion of their contributions when the WCB’s investment specialists have done so unexpectedly well.

Of course, most of us don’t expect as much with the payments we make to either governments or corporations when their investments pay off or, say, their Bitumen Bubbles suddenly disappear. But that’s not really the point. There are many who find fault with the operations of the WCB, complaining it fails to ensure injured workers who should be covered and that some of its programs fall short.

Without question, a substantial give-back like this will mean many companies and other employers that have failed, for example, to achieve their Certificate of Recognition safety certification will nevertheless receive what some might call a substantial hidden subsidy.

The COR program, run by Mr. Lukaszuk’s ministry, recognizes employers who develop health and safety programs that meet the government’s standards.

Among the large employers who have not quite yet completed the COR process is Alberta Health Services, which as was reported by media yesterday is about to be brought even more tightly under the control of the provincial government by Health Minister Fred Horne.

“Let’s have no more pretense that AHS is an independent arm’s-length agency that makes apolitical decisions about health care delivery,” observed Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons of this development. This is just the latest step, she argued, in Mr. Horne’s “wholesale emasculation” of AHS.

But it does mean the government itself, or at least a de facto branch like AHS, will be in a position to benefit from the WCB’s largesse, despite failure to quite come up to snuff on safety certification. Some might characterize this is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Regardless, the success of the WCB’s ALM efforts do raise an interesting additional question: if a government-mandated disability insurance system can run so efficiently, imagine how well a government-mandated auto insurance corporation would work!

Just think, in a good year for investments, good drivers could all get a rebate from the Insurance Corporation of Alberta!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

4 Comments to: Alberta Workers Compensation Board poised to give back more than $500 million to employers

  1. May 8th, 2014

    Large “one-time” or “special” rebates to employers are not uncommon on top of what an employer can receive through the government’s COR/PIR program and the WCB’s own experience-rating program.

    The question this raises is why the government hasn’t asked the WCB to consider using this bonus money to address the long-standing issue of contentious claims (WCB claims denied over the years on questionable grounds).

    If the purpose of the WCB is to compensate workers for injuries, shouldn’t injured workers otherwise denied compensation have first dibs on “found” money?

    Reply
  2. May 8th, 2014

    I haven’t gone through the WCB’s books in any comprehensive manner, but in 2011, the Board authorized a $230m special dividend to employers: the rationale in the Board minutes are that the WCB had too much cash and this should be paid out to employers.

    Reply
  3. June 25th, 2014

    YEA! On the backs of the disallowed injured workers who have been run over by the machine. Employers discrediting the workers, poor documentation by heath caregivers, regimented time lines for get well, any exclusion to terminate. What a system we have, no one has an understanding or compassion of anyone or anything. Only rants will continue so I’ll stop there….for now!!!!

    Reply
  4. Justin

    July 18th, 2014

    The WCB essentially acts as an insurance company funded by both the Government of Alberta and the employers that pay their WCB premiums. Any surplus dollars that are sitting in the WCB’s accounts are dollars that have been paid out by the businesses that pay for this insurance. Let’s be clear on this, businesses that have poor performance as in they hurt people on a regular basis, do not get this type of rebate. Only businesses that have good performance on their claims experience index will receive rebates or dollars back on their premiums. As for disallowed claims, it is unfortunate that in some cases workers are denied compensation for injuries, in my experience claims that are disallowed are unusual and typically have many factors impacting that decision. However the comment that so called “found” money ought to be delivered to workers that were denied compensation in my opinion is asinine. The worker pays no premiums for this type of insurance and it is wholly and entirely funded by their employer. If businesses have good performance they deserve their money back, just as many insurance types offer a rebate on services not used why should this be any different?

    Reply

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