In spite of WCB rate hikes across most industries in B.C. treeplanting contractors will actually see a reduction in base premium rates next year.

B.C. Treeplanting Rates to Drop

British Columbia treeplanting contractors’ Workers’ Compensation Board coverage costs will drop next year by 16.4% lowering the base premium rate from $3.97 to $3.32. The reduction, which applies to treeplanting and conepicking, runs contrary to general provincial trends where rates will increase by an aggregate %4.8 in 2002.

Spacing, brushing and weeding contractors will be more in line with provincial averages with their base premium rate rising from $5.61 to $6.17 in 2002; a 10% increase.

The general trend to higher rates reflects rising health care costs, which have increased by more than a third since 1996, and declining returns on WCB investments. Until the recent downturn in the markets, WCB investments of employer contributions had, in part, been subsidizing employers’ costs said a Board spokesman speaking to the WSCA Thursday. With the loss of these revenues and the gains in health costs the Board has had to come back to employers to make up the difference he said.

Meanwhile WCB administration costs have been flat and injury and severity rates have generally declined in recent years. But those trends have not offset cost increases for the majority of rate groups who have been assessed individually based on their safety performance and payrolls.

Next year’s treeplanting rates where determined by industry trends over the last decade which saw a number of declines in key areas for conepickers and treeplanters. Between 1996 and 2000 injury rates dropped 3%, duration of claims decreased 7.4%, wages declined by 20.3% and the number of claims were reduced by 30%. These long term factors all contributed to the drop in the treeplanting group’s premium base rate.

In the short term, however last year saw a statistical spike upwards in some claims statistics for treeplanting with a 19% increase in the injury rate to 19.7 from 16.6 and a 31% increase in number of claims to 349 from 266. At the same time the average duration of injury dropped by 17% to 31.2 days and wages declined another 6.1% to $695 per week. The average weekly wage in 1996 according to the WCB was $872.

Key indicators for spacing, brushing, and weeding employers is less clear since their rate group includes hard rock miners, ranchers, forest fire fighters, and diamond drillers. The only trend that might affect forestry contractors in this category is the overall decline in silviculture work. With so few workers in the field last year injury rates are likely to decline causing experience ratings to drop, offsetting the impact of the general rate increase.

The Coalition of BC Businesses is opposing the rate increases by asking government to freeze WCB rates until a core review of the corporation is completed. The Coalition says increases will harm small businesses and reflect inefficiencies and mismanagement within WCB.