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September 2 2008
Compensation Privatization Feared
Injured workers, Labour official circulating petition that will be presented to legislature
"Injured workers are not for sale . . . Earlier this summer, Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission president Doug Stanley said the Grand Bay-Westfield rehabilitation centre has the chance to become a world class facility, but only if it is operated by private interests. . . . "We don't think that's a good thing for injured workers," says Ron Oldfield, president of the Saint John District Labour Council". . . . "anyone going through the door with a little money could take precedence over an injured worker. That's our biggest fear." (says Leah Logan-Guimond, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 946.
SAINT JOHN - "Injured workers are not for sale," read stickers sported by members of the labour movement during the annual Labour Day picnic at Rockwood Park.
The stickers alluded to a proposed sale of workers compensation services, says Leah Logan-Guimond, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 946 at the Workers Compensation Board.
"We're trying to put a stop to the privatization. The way we're looking at it is, if a series of doctors come in and purchase the building, the service will go to private insurers.
"So anyone going through the door with a little money could take precedence over an injured worker. That's our biggest fear. They've deregulated the service enough to make it look like it's not making any kind of money."
An independent review panel has released a report with 64 recommendations, one of which was to explore options to enhance or expand services offered at the centre.
Earlier this summer, Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission president Doug Stanley said the Grand Bay-Westfield rehabilitation centre has the chance to become a world class facility, but only if it is operated by private interests.
He said at the time that the commission had received seven expressions of interest and would be considering the feasibility of the proposals over the summer. Stanley said a decision would be made about pursuing any of the expressions of interest by fall; the decision would need to be approved by the board.
A group of doctors, led by Dr. David Elias, has been a vocal proponent of the privatization of the centre. Theirs is one of the seven proposals.
The model proposed by Elias would see a group of physicians purchase the rehabilitation centre, assuming full responsibility for services. They would then lease space back to the province's Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission.
"We don't think that's a good thing for injured workers," says Ron Oldfield, president of the Saint John District Labour Council.
"We think the government should be involved in this and we need government legislation and control so employers don't run rampant. We want to see it stay in public hands."
So far, Logan-Guimond has collected about 400 names on a petition that she says she will present to the new Brunswick Legislature.
She wasn't the only person collecting signatures at the picnic. Postal worker Dave Elliott was also there. By early afternoon, he had collected about 80 signatures of people who want the Rothesay Post Office to remain open on Saturdays.
The two collected signatures while, all around them, children and adults munched on hot dogs and hamburgers while pop music blared in the background.
New Brunswick NDP Leader Roger Dugay was in the crowd shaking hands with people and pledging to improve the situation of workers.
"Workers in New Brunswick always have to fight to make sure they are well protected in the workplace and they have benefits," Duguay said. "We need more protection for workers."
Michel Boudreau, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, identified pay equity, public child care and health and safety as the three biggest labour issues in the province.
He had just come from visiting protesting longshoremen who were demonstrating against employer demands that a trio of them work Labour Day, for which there is no provision in their collective agreement with the port's employers association.
The federation has pledged its support to keep the Rothesay Post Office open on Saturdays and to keep Long Wharf in the hands of the port.
"I went to say 'Hi' to them," Boudreau said of his visit to the protesting longshoremen. "I don't know the issue but I went there to support them."
Meanwhile, Oldfield says Labour Day is, first and foremost, a time for workers to celebrate.
"To relax and take our fights and set them aside for a day and really just enjoy our family and friends and remember what we're here for. And that is to celebrate the fruits of our labour."
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