We ran a poll last week asking Alberta producers if they were procrastinating or protesting the mandatory sign up for WCB. You can see from the results that 28% of respondents say they refuse to sign up for a WCB account based on their personal principles.
It’s been brought to my attention that I misinterpreted the sign up process in some ways. Remember that WCB is mandatory under the new Bill 6 legislation. Therefore, I thought you had to sign up to be compliant, which would then ensure your employees were covered. This is not entirely the case.
Here are the 5 things that you may not have known about Alberta farm worker WCB:
- If you have employees you need to create a WCB account – The first deadline for signing up was April 30th and the Alberta Government estimates 60% of possible registrants have complied. Based on the poll results we can definitely say getting to 100% compliance will prove difficult without fines or other measures.
- You cannot create an account until you have employees – After you hire an employee you have two weeks to create an account. If you have no paid employees you cannot “hold” an account. This will be slightly painful for operations that use seasonal help but it’s not insurmountable. Some farmers have tried to set up an account planning for hiring help in the fall and were told to wait.
- The educational phase will not last forever – The next deadline has not been set but will likely come with warnings or financial ramifications if you have not complied by that date. From listening to government and ag industry, it appears that the WCB is likely to shift from education to warning and then fines within the year. Since WCB is mandatory you really do not have a choice to opt in or not long term.
- If you have not complied by setting up a mandatory account your workers are still protected under the legislation – All paid farm workers in Alberta are protected by the new legislation whether you have set up an account or not. This means that the 40% not signed up and the 28% of people that refuse to open an account (according to our poll) will be somewhat surprised to know that they are technically already subject to WCB anyways. You really do not have a choice.
- If you have employees, you owe for backdated premium – Since all paid farm workers are protected, the meter has been running on the WCB premiums since January 1 or your paid employee(s)’ first work day in 2016. For example, if you set up an account today you will owe the back premium for your employees since January 1 or when they started employment in 2016. Many people are not really aware of this fact. Some people thought the premium clock started Jan 1, some thought May 1 and others thought whenever you opened an account. If you have employees, you are on the premium meter. WCB fines will likely attempt to prevent farmers from never signing up until there is an accident on their farm.
After logging hours on the phone with government and industry representatives, I feel safe in saying that everyone acknowledges the rushing of this bill is leading to continued miscommunication. In my opinion making WCB mandatory was the easy way for government to make sure all paid farm workers were covered by January 1. Getting WCB implemented in such a short time frame is proving more difficult that making it mandatory.
Many people within industry are lobbying hard to give farm operations the choice on WCB or private insurance and I am not convinced that door is closed yet in the long term. Governments willingness to compromise with the industry will be tested if the 28-40% remain stubborn and refuse to get accounts at all. Some in government believe that forcing WCB allows for better tracking and accountability.
Many people that are unaware of the backdated premium are going to be very upset. It is very likely that the industry will attempt to get the government to compromise on this issue. I do not have a good read on the governments willingness to change this. Another complicating factor is that you cannot reward the farms that are unwilling to get accounts by saying forget about the premium you owe. There are farms that opened accounts before April 30 and are already paying premium.
As more develops, we will make sure that we keep you informed.