Renovation contractors and their subtrades turned out in large numbers for mass protests in front of Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) Offices in Ottawa and Hamilton, ON, on Feb. 12 to protest the Ontario government’s new WSIB fee structure. As a result of the province’s controversial Bill 119, which went into effect Jan. 1, independent small business operators must now purchase WSIB insurance at rates that could drive them out of business.
Justin Dokter, a 24-year-old self-employed carpenter from the Hamilton area who was one of the main organizers of the protests, told Canadian Contractor that he would have to foist these mandatory new charges on his customers, since paying them himself is not an option. And that, he said, could put him out of work, especially given the cash competitors he has to bid against.
Before Ontario introduced Bill 119, independent contractors still had to be insured, but they could, as Dokter did, choose their own insurer. The mandatory new WSIB premiums range from 1 to 18 per cent of a worker’s insurable earnings. In his own case, “it’s 7 to 15 per cent of our gross income,” Dokter said.
“This (WSIB) costs six to seven times more than my private insurance and it’s an inferior product,” Dokter added. “ And it only covers me if I get hurt on the job.” He said his private insurance covers him no matter where an injury or illness occurs.
Henry de Vries, a local painter who attended the Hamilton protest, said it was the first time he had ever carried a picket sign in his life. He said he would rather have been working but felt he had no choice to but to join a protest because, with the new WSIB rules and fees, his livelihood is now seriously threatened.
“The biggest problem is the rates they’re charging that contractors have to pay,” de Vries said. He said he’d heard of contractors paying “from 6 per cent to 30 per cent.”
“It’s gotten to the point between that and income tax that it is hardly worth going out to work anymore. I hope the government takes a look at WSIB, does an audit on them, like the WSIB did on us last year. (They need) to take a look at how they take care of their funds.
It’s well known that the WSIB has not, at all, “taken care of its funds.” At the end of 2011, the much-criticized agency had an “unfunded liability” (obligations it already has to pay out premiums to claimants) of a staggering $14.2-billion. Some analysts estimate that amount has now risen to $18-billion.
Roger Tickner, a safety professional in the industry, says it’s clear to him that the Ontario government sees independent contractors as a new source of revenue to deal with that money pit. “It’s been created by people that really don’t understand the business as well as they should,” he said.
Husband-and-wife contracting team Martin and Corinne Templeman, MET Services, attended the Hamilton rally and told Canadian Contractor that the new fees were potentially crippling to their business.
“My clients are going to be paying 5 per cent more for my services. And I’ve got to compete against the black market who pay cash,” Martin said. “We need to create awareness that the government is asking small contractors, small business people, to pay for a deficit that they had no part of creating,” Corinne said.
Conservative MPP Randy Hillier is one of the more vocal opponents of the WSIB in the legislature. Since Bill 119 was first introduced in 2009, he has introduced several bills to create exemptions for small business owners. They were all defeated. The lobby against the new WSIB rules has a website at www.fixthewsib.ca.