WINNIPEG -- The Workers Compensation Board (WCB) of Manitoba is giving back a $37-million surplus to eligible employers in the province.

Premier Brian Pallister made the announcement at a news conference on Tuesday. He said this move will provide financial relief to eligible employers and to help employees.

“This will keep our workers compensation structure strong, but it allows us to return money to businesses at a time when cash flow is a real challenge,” he said.

Michael Werier, chairperson for the WCB, said in a news release the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the majority of its customers.

“With a healthy reserve fund, we are pleased to provide a refund of approximately 20 per cent to employers to help bolster their bottom line,” he said.

“It’s incumbent upon businesses like ourselves to do our part to actively help support financial recovery efforts over the next several months.”

According to the province and WCB, in May, employers who are eligible will receive a credit to their account that’s based on 20 per cent of their 2019 premium. The WCB said it anticipates that $29 million of the $37 million will go to the private sector, and about $7 million will be returned to small businesses. 

Those who are eligible need to have fulfilled payroll duties for 2019 and paid last year’s WCB premium. Employers are still able to report their 2019 payroll.

“This has real benefits,” said Pallister. “Not just to the private sector, I should mention, in the healthcare sector for example, which includes RHAs, CancerCare, Riverview, personal care homes as well, this equates to approximately a $6.2-million refund. So this is significant.”

The premier said this refund is another major step in the Manitoba Protection Plan to help small businesses, individuals and families.

“This builds on the steps we have already taken, including directing Manitoba Hydro and Centra Gas not to disconnect customers at this time, deferring hydro bills without penalty or interest, also Centra Gas bills, MPI bills and the Workers Compensation levies going forward,” the premier said.

He said the province has also taken measures to protect tenants from eviction, deferred increases in Manitoba Pharmacare deductible rates, made home and business property insurance more affordable by on July 1, 2020, removing $75 million of annual PST from residential and business properties.

“Extending tax filing deadlines for small and medium-sized businesses with monthly remittances of up to $10,000,” Pallister said.

“That’s going to support more than 20,000 businesses in our province and introducing a temporary exception to employment standards regulations to ensure temporary layoffs after March 1 do not equal a termination. That’s protecting workers who have to lose some work time in our province.”

The premier noted this build on what his government has done in the previous four years.

Pallister went on to thank the federal government for a number of economic programs over the last few weeks, noting on Monday it alluded to their intention to create a program that the province will be partnering with them on.

“We believe this is an excellent program,” he said.

“This is called the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program and Manitoba will contribute $16 million dollars to that program to assist in supporting payments on mortgages on property, assist non-essential business tenants facing financial hardship due to COVID by providing forgivable loans.

The premier said he believes Manitoba is the first province to partner with Ottawa on the proposal. He said there will be more details on this program later on Tuesday.

“We are a resilient province,” said Pallister. “We are projected by most of the analysts, whether in banks or bond rating companies, to be the province that is best positioned to come back from this pandemic and we are going to make that happen.”

Earlier in April, the WCB said it would defer premium payments until the end of May, not charge business interest or penalties for non-payment until October, extend the payroll reporting deadline, and make sure coverage remains active for accounts that choose to defer payments.