Surrey Board of Trade Wants the BC Government to Focus on Workers who are Transitioning Off Disability Assistance

The Surrey Board of Trade issued a government policy announcement at the Surrey Board of Trade Business to Business Networking Reception at Semiahmoo House Society on September 21st.

In ‘Accessibility 2024’, the provincial government’s goal for BC is to have the highest labour participation rate for people with disabilities in Canada by 2024. This is good. The recent BC Budget announcements indicating as of October 1st the annual earnings exemption for people on disability assistance will increase by $2400. This is good.

However, the Surrey Board of Trade has recognized that there is a sub-set of individuals who receive disability supports that are not represented. These are individuals who are recovering from a long-term illness and are preparing to re-enter the labour market. To ensure their successful re-integration, they require flexibility in the Disability Assistance Program to help both the employer and employee accommodate the transition from a few hours a week to full-time.

“In essence the Surrey Board of Trade wants a modified Return-to-Work programs for these individuals. This includes transitional disability assistance allowing for a graduated recovery of income earned over the allowable income exemption,” said Anita Huberman, CEO, Surrey Board of Trade.

“The Surrey Board of Trade has focused on many workforce development programs and advocacy that has instigated change to ensure that workplaces have the skilled human capital that they need. In the face of skill shortages, the Surrey Board of Trade is asking government to focus on filling this gap in the Disability Assistance Program to help employers and employees.”

Workers in this sub-group are not covered by insurance or their insurance has time limits; and they are not WCB or ICBC related, and there is no union agreement in place. The challenge requiring time away from employment is usually a major illness or injury of some kind that, at some point, can either go into remission, or the individual is getting better or is in some form able to return to work.

Return-to-work plans are recommended by human resource agencies and governments as the preferred tool to assist employees to return to the workplace. Part of recovering from a debilitating illness is considered beneficial for a worker’s mental and social well-being.

To successfully re-integrate into an employment situation, individuals may find the maximum allowable support to be a barrier as they gradually increase their employment hours, but are not experiencing the benefit. Further, the increase in employed hours paid may not be sufficient to replace the disability support, hindering the employee’s ability to leave the disability assistance program, particularly if that person has dependants.

The dollar-for-dollar deduction after allowable earnings is a major barrier to a successful return-to-work plan requiring recovering employees to effectively jump from as few as 2-4 hours weekly (especially if a skilled-worker earns more than minimum wage), to full-time in order to ensure sufficient income. If returning too soon, the employee can suffer a medical set back impacting their recovery and the workplace.

What is required for these willing workers is a flexible assistance schedule that allows for increasing hours and commensurate pay, and that extra time required to successfully integrate back into the workforce.