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The Ontario government plans to give the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board the power to distribute surplus funds to the province’s businesses.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said he will table legislation later this month that will enable the WSIB to either cut premium rates or send money directly to employers when the agency is well funded.

The WSIB is the arm’s-length government insurance agency that provides benefits and medical coverage to Ontario workers who have been injured or contracted an illness on the job. It is funded through payroll premiums paid by employers.

The payouts would be optional when the sufficiency ratio of the WSIB’s fund is between 115 per cent and 125 per cent, and mandatory when it is over 125 per cent. The sufficiency ratio compares the fund’s assets to its liabilities. As of March 31, the WSIB’s sufficiency ratio was 118 per cent, with more than $6-billion in net assets.

“We’ve got a sustainable system that’s going to have the backs of workers for decades to come because of the sound management that we have at the WSIB,” Mr. McNaughton said in an interview.

The WSIB was dangerously underfunded for years, at one point reaching a low of 52 per cent in 2011. The then-Liberal government introduced a package of reforms to pay down the unfunded liability, which was the shortfall in funds to pay future benefits. By 2018 the unfunded liability was eliminated and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, elected earlier that year, were able to cut employers’ premium rates by 30 per cent, with further cuts in the years since.

The Ontario NDP has called for surplus funds to be directed toward improving worker benefits, and not refunding employers.

“It is obscene that injured workers, mistreated for years to meet the financial goals of the WSIB, would not be the very first consideration for support in the event of any surplus,” NDP workplace health and safety critic Wayne Gates said in August.

The new legislation will also allow employers to pay their WSIB premiums through the Canada Revenue Agency, as they do with other payroll deductions, such as the Canada Pension Plan.

Mr. McNaughton said the two changes – surplus distribution and CRA filing – follow recommendations from an expert review of the WSIB that was delivered last November.

The review also made a number of recommendations to address what it said were long wait times and an overcomplicated, bureaucratic system for assessing injured worker claims. The review noted both labour and business groups expressed similar frustrations about the workings of the board. The review’s suggestions include allowing workers to submit documents digitally and to streamline the complex appeals process.

Mr. McNaughton said the upcoming legislation would not address those recommendations.

The Ontario government will also move to cap the WSIB’s maximum insurable earnings for a second year in a row. Mr. McNaughton said the province’s average industrial wage has artificially increased during the pandemic because low-wage workers were more likely to lose their jobs. The government said that, without intervention, the earnings ceiling would have increased by 9 per cent for 2022. Instead, next year’s ceiling will rise based on inflation, at 3.2 per cent. He said the government is considering rises in the ceiling on a year-by-year basis.

The WSIB’s premium rates for 2021 were $1.37 on every $100 of insurable payroll. The rates for 2022 will be announced on Wednesday.

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