By Susan Farquharson
New Brunswick’s salmon farming industry plays a vital role in this province’s economic renewal plan.
Our farmers are producing one of the healthiest foods in the world while creating jobs in our rural and coastal communities. Our industry employs people directly on farms as well as in feed production, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, supply and services, research and innovation and spin-off jobs in many other sectors including retail and tourism.
Our industry employs thousands of people in areas where labour opportunities have been transitioning for the past several decades. Whether it’s in a hatchery, on a fish farm, in a processing plant, on a transport truck, or in administrative roles, New Brunswickers who are employed in the fish farming industry work in varying and challenging conditions. Our industry knows that safe and healthy work environments are imperative. We also know the importance of having a functional workers’ compensation system in place that balances the needs of employees and employers.
Our companies want to continue to aid economic growth in our province, which is why we feel compelled to add our voices to the chorus of industry professionals who are raising the alarm over WorkSafeNB’s unexpected announcement of an immediate 33 per cent hike in employer premiums. Increasing the average assessment rate for employers from $1.11 per $100 in 2016 to $1.48 in 2017 will have an immediate and significant impact on the budgets of both big and small companies and subsequently the entire provincial economy. WorkSafeNB’s warning that subsequent rate hikes are likely for the foreseeable future is alarming as well. How can companies operating in New Brunswick plan and support provincial economic development, while operating under these unknowns?
It seems there has been a long and murky road of ineffective policy and politics that has taken us to where we are today – dealing with such a sudden hike in premiums unseen in both percentage and raw dollars in the past 20 years.
There is no doubt that our companies are frustrated that this increase came without warning and is now seemingly irreversible. Like other industries, we are dedicated to operating here in New Brunswick, but we are already struggling to navigate increased taxes, rising operational costs, changing global markets and a significant labour shortage.
We know that our people, our labour force, are our greatest resource. Our industry supports having a healthy worker’s compensation program to support our employees when they need it. However, the system we have in place now that allows for such sudden, unplanned and disruptive increases is simply not acceptable, professional or productive. New Brunswick businesses need stability and predictability in order to survive and thrive. Developers need confidence to invest in New Brunswick. Entrepreneurs invest less and take fewer risks when they are forced to operate in an unpredictable environment.
We strongly urge the provincial government to work with WorkSafeNB and New Brunswick businesses, including those in our industry, to act quickly to find a solution that works for both employers and employees.
Susan Farquharson is the Executive Director of the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association.