Saturday, November 23, 2013

Should Worker's Compensation be a shared responsibility?

We all know the reason for workers' compensation.   We give up the right to sue a company for injuries that happen at the workplace (although it is possible to sue another company that made the equipment responsible for the injury, in a product liability lawsuit).   In exchange the province's compensation board will pay replacement income.  It may be partial if we have to resort to modified work.  For example, if taking modified work reduces a salary by 15%, comp will pay an amount equal to 15% of after-tax income, since benefits are tax-free.  In some cases, it could be as much as 60% or more of after-tax if we are totally unable to resume work (the rest would be covered by a CPP or RRQ disability pension which is taxable).

In some provinces, a province's worker's comp board is just that, it is solely focused on determining compensation.

Some other provinces, however, have a dual mandate for the service  -- not just paying compensation for injuries but also trying to prevent injuries, in other words promoting workplace occupational health and safety.   These provinces include BC, Ontario and Québec (with their CSST).  That makes sense, we should have as an aim keeping injuries at work to a minimum -- after all, healthy employees reduces overhead related to the costs of workplace related absenteeism.

In all cases, though, the responsibility for paying premiums for worker's compensation is solely the responsibility of employers.   Employees pay nothing.  In fact, it is this payroll tax (anywhere from 1.12% to 2.75% depending on the jurisdiction) that many companies claim is a disincentive to expand their operations.

What I'm writing next is probably a very unpopular position.   But it is what I think. 

In Canada, the CPP / RRQ and EI programs are shared between employers and employees (1:1 for pensions, 1.4:1 for unemployment).

This is an issue that has made me curious for quite some time.    But after thinking about it, I think that worker's comp should also be a 1:1 proposition.   Here's why.

A company has as a primary duty the safety of its employees.   Whether it's in a factory or an office environment, people have the right to expect minimal to no disruption in their working lives.   This means safe factory equipment with guards to prevent injury, readily accessible eyewash stations, computer stations that minimize Carpal-tunnel syndrome incidents, and of course and sadly the stress that can result from sexual and other types of harassment.   And so forth.

But I think employees also have a reciprocating duty to contribute to workplace safety -- by avoiding risky behaviour.   The benefits that come with worker's comp aren't free, someone has paid for them.    I'm not just talking about slips and falls at the factory.   They also happen at the office, for example if you rush to make a turn around a supervisor's "platform" and you slam your knee into a sharp corner during that turn.   It also deals with harassment issues -- one just might think twice knowing their hard-earned money might be used to compensate for other people's physical and mental health costs.   (Of course, this should not mean the rogue is exempt from being personally sued.)

Certainly, no one should be penalized financially for unintentional accidents, or even incidents where their was just plain idiocy on one's own person.   In fact, firing an employee under such a circumstance should be illegal unless he or she deliberately endangered other persons.   And there should always be zero tolerance for racial or sexual harassment because of the mental health implications.

Given all of that, I've in my working life seen risky behaviour both at the factory and at the office.   And it bothers me that on this one item, employees think they can get a free ride.   As I said, nothing is truly free.  Giving workers peace of mind that they will be taken care of is part of our social safety net and it is a principle that should be protected.   But it should also mean that employees should take responsibility not just for their own safety as much as is possible, but for taking care of their fellow workers too and protecting their safety as much as employers should.   That's why an employee payroll tax for worker's compensation is warranted.

If employees had premiums deducted from their pay cheques (which would be fully tax-deductible, of course, just like the other payroll taxes) it might make them think twice before doing something inherently risky or just plain stupid.    And giving employers a bit of a break would be an incentive to hire new staffers.

This change doesn't have to be done overnight.   It can be phased in over four years to give us time to adjust.   But for the most part, the system we have is stuck in a World War I mentality (the period when most provinces set up their régimes).    It needs to change.   And making it a shared responsibility is one way to do so.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"I've got more than enough to eat at home," Ford says

You couldn't get the best scriptwriters in Hollywood or Broadway to come up with this line.   Rob Ford, responding this morning to numerous allegations that he hired a call girl to visit his office in Toronto (among other allegations of downing mickeys in one shot and DUI), said they were untrue.    But then Ford went after one of his former assistants who talked to the police, a woman who claims he sexually harassed her with lewd comments about his own sex life:

"Oh and the last thing was Olivia Gondek," Ford said, "it says it says [sic] that I wanted to eat her pussy. Olivia Gondek, I've never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I'm happily married. I've got more than enough to eat at home. Thank you very much."
If your spouse or common-law partner talked about you like that, in public, you'd be very tempted to serve the other half with separation papers.  More than likely, you would.   But of course, this is Rob Ford.

A couple of hours later he apologized twice (never sorry, so it means squat) then said he has been in professional counselling.   That would have been helpful to know ... last week.

All the city council in Toronto can do is strip him of his ex officio duties (jobs he holds by virtue of being Mayor).   But it would be better than nothing.    Toronto needed some fiscal conservatism even in a very liberal city, but Ford has undermined his role with all this crap.    Can't he just call a time out?    Please?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Take a time out already, Rob!

So Rob Ford has actually admitted it.   He's bought illegal drugs during the last two years.  Notwithstanding that concession, 30 of 44 councillors on Toronto City Council voted to ask him to take a leave of absence.  Naturally, Ford refused.  He also said he still has a "coat hanger" in the closet.   I've heard of double entendres but not that one.   (Any guesses what he means?   Because unless he's had an affair, I'm otherwise stumped.)

And, oh yeah, the organizers of the Santa Claus Parade asked Ford not to show up.  (Ford says he will anyway).

Look, people make mistakes.  I get that.

But let's count the ways Ford has gotten into hot water without consequences:
  • DUI and marijuana possession in Florida
  • Being kicked out of the ACC while intoxicated
  • Acting like a jerk in a restaurant on St Patrick's Day
  • Driving with a cellphone in hand
  • The incident with Sarah Thompson (I believe her side of the story, FWIW)
  • The video
And it goes on and on.  And the police files unsealed today are even more disturbing.   And we'll no doubt be hearing more.

Most cities in this country of Canada would not tolerate this kind of behavior from the top of the heap.    The council would have thrown him or her with the trash a long time ago, asking him or her to resign with such a strong non-confidence motion that the mayor would take the hint and walk away.

I'm against the idea of recall.   Yes, Athens had it 2½ millenia ago but I think the idea of pulling someone out midstream for purely ideological or moral reasons is wrong.  I'm still furious that Gray Davis was trounced in favour of Ahnold, even though the California Legislature was just as responsible for the power fiasco in that state in 2002-03.   If you recall one, you should recall all.

But there is nothing immoral about taking a leave of absence.   About the only people who can't take time off from their job are clerical ministers, for obvious reasons.

Ford can't seem to understand he's a big joke to the world.   No doubt he'll be the subject of yet another series of attacks by late night this evening.   Toronto, and by extension the country, has more important things to do than worry if what will next come out is Ford hired sex workers  -- well, looks some may have visited his office, and he was probably DUI at some point during his term)

He should take the rest of the year off.  Get some perspective.   And run the 2014 campaign on the way forward, not what happened in the past.

UPDATE (6:26 pm EST, 2326 GMT):   Some new info on the latest shenanigans.

Friday, November 1, 2013

As always, it's the coverup (if that's what it is)

At this point, I really don't give a damn if Toronto Mayor Rob Ford did drugs.   If he did it certainly hasn't impaired his performance as a politician.    What I do care about are the following:
  1. Ford obviously has major issues.   Be they mental or substance, or both, he needs to deal with them before someone really gets hurt.   His city has an excellent benefits package that includes counselling.   He should acknowledge the issue, and use the taxpayer funded help.   Just talking about it to an impartial person might be a start.
  2. Using drugs is one thing, but lying about it is quite another.   Like Watergate, Iran-Contra, tainted tuna and Miss Lewinsky, it's getting caught up in inconsistencies that's the problem.   As ever I support the right to presumption of innocence.    But if the smoking gun is now there, he has only one chance to set the record straight; otherwise he's toast.