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November 27, 2006

EDITORIAL: WCB nightmares

Woe be any employee in Alberta seriously injured on the job. Because, as the Sun's blockbuster series last week on the Workers' Compensation Board showed, there are huge problems plaguing the organization that is supposed to help Albertans injured at work.

The charges made by various individuals in the series are stunning and include:

* Assertions that there is a "culture of denial" at WCB.

* Evidence that the WCB has routinely withheld evidence from injured workers.

* Injured workers being forced to spend many years becoming experts on their own condition in order to get their deserved coverage from a compensation board that refuses to believe their condition is serious.

* Appeals of claims dragging out for years, or even decades.

* A report showing 80% of more than 800 workers contacted were unhappy with their WCB treatment.

* The WCB rewarding case managers for saving money and clearing cases quickly, which, it's argued, lead to claims being rejected and injured workers being unfairly put back on the job.

* Accusations from former staff members that anyone who questioned the practises of the WCB usually lost their job.

* Reports that WCB staff are working in a climate of fear and repression.

* Accusations that former WCB employees being appointed to the appeals commission has created inevitable conflicts of interests.

And this, after the WCB had been hauled on the carpet by several provincial committees in recent years for mistreating workers. One of those reports went so far as to charge that "too often, it seems that injured workers, rather than being helped and assisted during a difficult and traumatic time, are marginalized by the WCB."

Naturally, the WCB denies pretty much everything that was reported, but it's not like this newspaper made up the stories of workers who had been fighting for 20 years, with mountains of evidence backing them up, to get their rightful benefits.

But despite years of reviews, studies, reports and promises by the Alberta government, nothing ever seems to really change.

And given that our stories didn't generate any outrage among the leading contenders for Ralph Klein's job last week, it would seem that the Alberta Tories just don't have the guts to really take on the WCB, rein it in, and demand it get back to the primary business of taking care of injured workers, not forcing them to go through hell and back.

This should be a huge issue for every MLA elected to represent Albertans at the Legislature.

Alberta's injured workers clearly deserve better.

So why aren't they getting it?

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