CLAS intervenes in case on workers' access to justice at the BCCA

CLAS, along with the BC Federation of Labour, recently argued a case at the BC Court of Appeal that raises important access to justice concerns for injured workers involved with the workers' compensation system in British Columbia.

Currently, the final level of appeal for workers compensation decisions is at the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT). An injured worker can then either judicially review a WCAT decision to the BC Supreme Court if he or she disagrees with the decision, or file for a reconsideration of this decision at WCAT itself.

Earlier this spring, the BC Court of Appeal raised questions about the ability of WCAT to reconsider its own decisions in certain circumstances. This issue was eventually argued at a hearing at the beginning of October, in which CLAS and the BC Federation of Labour participated jointly as an intervener and were represented pro-bono by Monique Pongracic-Speier from Ethos Law.

CLAS believes very strongly that WCAT should have this reconsideration power. Currently, the majority of reconsideration applications are filed by injured workers, not employers, and filing for reconsideration is procedurally easier and far less costly than filing for judicial review of a WCAT decision at the BC Supreme Court. In addition, a significant number of these reconsideration applications are successful, with workers successfully arguing that they are entitled to workers' compensation benefits.

Many workers involved with the workers' compensation system have been dealing with substantial loss of income as well as serious health ramifications from their injuries. They are often not able to find legal representation to represent them in their workers' compensation appeals, which can take years to finalize. Considering this, injured workers, especially if they are self-represented, may not be able to file for judicial review of WCAT decisions that they disagree with because of the additional costs and complexity of this process.

At the hearing in October, CLAS and the BC Federation of Labour presented arguments about the importance of WCAT's reconsideration power in facilitating access to justice for workers, considering the difficulties of seeking judicial review. The Court of Appeal reserved judgement, and we hope that we will be successful in preserving a means through which workers have been effective in enforcing their legal rights.