Changes to appeal process for injured workers in New Brunswick opposed

Written by Asaf Rashid on May 15, 2014

injured workers monument

Photo from the website of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.

The Common Front for Social Justice is opposing proposed changes to New Brunswick’s Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Appeals Tribunal, calling it a step backwards for injured workers.

“We are against a one person Appeal Tribunal instead of the present tripartite one where workers and employers have one representative. We are certainly also against having only lawyers as the person hearing the injured workers appeal case. Finally, we are totally opposed to the notion that the President of the Appeal Tribunal, and not the injured worker, would decide the method of his hearing (by phone, videoconference, only on paper or in person),’’ says Linda McCaustlin, a co-chair of the Common Front, the province’s largest anti-poverty coalition.

The NB Media Co-op spoke to the Common Front co-chair Jean-Claude Basque for more details on their concerns with the proposed changes.

NBMC: Why do you think the government is making this change and why now?

The government is making this change now because it wants to be able to say at Election time that they have moved on this file, they have taken action.

NBMC: The appeal system that Jody Carr, Minister of Post Secondary Education, Training and Labour, is proposing to replace had a tripartite composition. Can you describe how it is composed and what was good about this structure?

The tripartite appeal board is a three person board; one representing the workers usually chosen from a labour organization, one representing the employers usually chosen from an employer’s organization and a chair nominated by government.

The good part about it is that if you make an appeal, you are assured that at least one member of the board will have a sense of your workplace, your situation. You will feel more comfortable explaining your case when you know that one of the board members is sympathetic to you. If the workers’ appeal board member does not know your workplace, he could talk to other workers or labour organizations and familiarize himself or herself before the appeal date. The same applied to the employer’s representative. You [were] able to be heard in person.

They [administrative tribunals] were expressly created as independent bodies for the purpose of being an alternative to the judicial process, including its procedural panoplies. Designed to be less cumbersome, less expensive, less formal and less delayed, these impartial decision-making bodies were meant to resolve disputes in their area of specialization more expeditiously and more accessibly, but no less effectively or credibly.

NBMC: Under the proposed appeal system, how will the person hearing the appeal be chosen? What is wrong with this system?

The person hearing the appeal will be a lawyer and he or she will be alone. He or she will be chosen from a number of vice-presidents who will be doing all the appeals cases. The problem is that it makes the administrative appeal board more like a Tribunal. It means the injured workers will be alone in front of this “judge” and won’t have a sympathetic ear to listen to his or her explanation. The lawyer would not know the workplace and his or her decision will only be on the legalistic aspect of the case.

NBMC: What are your concerns about the President of the Appeal Tribunal, and not the injured worker, deciding the method of his or her hearing?

It is the injured workers who are appealing and he or she should be able to explain in person his case. The appeal should be owned by the injured workers. If it is the President who decided how your case will be heard, you are denied true justice. On what criteria will the President decide not to have a face-to-face hearing? On the fact that he is not feeling well or does not want to travel, etc?

NBMC: Do you think the proposed system will result in more denied appeals?

Yes. But more importantly, it will be a real step backward for injured workers and for simple administrative justice.

NBMC: This is currently a proposal by Minister Carr. How likely is it that it will go through?

Bills pass with a majority of MLAs supporting it. It depends if the Liberals take this issue seriously or not.

NBMC: What can be done to defeat it?

Public pressure.

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