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Journal Article/Book Review

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Workers' compensation, historical compromise, present system, legislation, sound concept, health and safety, workplace issues, special prominence


This committee, after our study, declares that our present system of workers' compensation legislation is still fundamentally sound in concept.

- Report to the House of Assembly of the Select Committee on Workers' Compensation, May, 1981

In the last decade health and safety issues in the workplace have gained a special prominence. Across North America new initiatives have been taken in response to an old problem. One aspect subjected to re-evaluation in many jurisdictions is the statutory scheme of workers' compensation. In Nova Scotia a Select Committee of the Legislature was given the mandate to reassess this scheme, and its overall verdict after two years of study was that only tinkering is required. Is that a fair conclusion? The question is much more than a purely academic one, since it is expected that the Select Committee's report will form the basis of new legislation in Nova Scotia. The adequacy of that legislative response will have immediate and significant relevance to injured workers in this province. To assess the present scheme it is obviously necessary to understand it, and a historical perspective provides the best insight into why the scheme looks the way it does. Current workers' compensation legislation is fundamentally the same as it was in 1915, when a statutory scheme was born of compromise between employers and employees. But while an understanding of that historical compromise is crucial, it need not be accepted as an essential ingredient in 1981. The most basic question to be asked about workers' compensation is whether that historical compromise has any continuing validity, and it is to that question that this paper is directed. In particular, this paper will focus on one of the most important features of the scheme from the perspective of injured workers - the scope of compensation.

This paper will proceed, firstly, by tracing the emergence of workers' compensation, and then situating that development in the context of the present. The main body of this paper will consist of an analysis of a variety of issues related to the basis upon which compensation is, and / or should be, awarded. Once this task is completed, a few concluding remarks will be offered.

Notes from Prof. Pothier

This paper was submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Employment Law course at Dalhousie Law School. The law surveyed is current to December, 1981.