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June 1st is Injured Workers’ Day

By Willy Noiles, President of Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups
Willy spoke on June 1st in Toronto
June 1 2017

Injured workers and supporters will rally at Queen’s Park on June 1st to commemorate Injured Workers’ Day. This year, our voices are raised to fight back against the epidemic of precarious, unsafe and toxic work, coupled with the severe austerity agenda that has taken over the administration of the workers’ compensation system.
My story of fighting begins from my time working at a temp agency. I had just finished my undergraduate degree and was working about 30 hours in a job that was in the field for which I had studied but because there were student loans to pay off, I signed on with a large temp agency to try and earn extra money to pay those loans off as quickly as possible. It would turn out to be the stupidest decision I made as one early June day back in 2000, I was called at 8 a.m. and asked if I could be at work at a flower factory by 8:30-9 a.m.
A complete lack of any health and safety advice or training played a key role as there was a slippery floor and many skids, trailer hitches and other obstacles, like hoses, that would directly contribute to my accident that occurred just an hour into that day.
As a result of that accident, I would end up with a shattered left knee, broken left ankle and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), which rates higher on the McGill Pain Index than cancer pain. CRPS also leads to other changes such as atrophy and increased sensitivity. In my case, it meant that after 10 months of rehab, and frequent walking since, my left quad muscles never regained their strength. It was almost two years before I could get out of scrub pants and return to denim. There was a year in which even my comforter could wake me up screaming in the middle of the night. And 17 years later, there are many days where just walking from the bedroom to the bathroom in the next room can elicit screaming and tears. And it necessitated moving back in with my parents for a few months after the age of 30 as my previous apartment had two flights of stairs I could no longer do in the wheelchair I had to use for more than six months.
My compensation was based on the average of what I had been earning over the previous year, which meant a benefit cheque of about $185 weekly. That was all the income I had coming in until I was able to return to my regular job later in the year on a part-time basis. Despite this, I was subject to the same harassment-style tactics that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) case managers specialize in, and was expected to return to work. As the temp agency couldn’t place me anywhere because I was in a wheelchair, I had to work in their office 16 hours a week. The fact I could not use the washroom at the office because it wasn’t accessible in any way, shape or form wasn’t an issue WSIB felt was worthy of discussion. After two months of shredding paper, the temp agency plead poverty and I was no longer required to return to work. But it meant that when I had reached maximum medical recovery 11 months after the initial accident, I was on my own. I was given a non-economic loss (NEL) award of $6,100 and told to have a nice life. There was no retraining or real compensation for what I had lost, including an offer for a full-time job in my field that came in a few days after I was released from my hospital stay, because I was just a temp employee; disposable and easily replaceable.
Every injured worker’s story is different, but we have all endured similar problems: substantial loss of pre-accident earnings, harassment and other obstacle games that WSIB likes to place in a worker’s way, depression (a well-meaning WSIB case nurse said I was lucky because I was alive and still had all my limbs, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were many days early on when I seriously believed she was wrong), feeling isolated and inadequate as we’re no longer able to do the things we used to. And while many are lucky enough to return to their job, many are not. Many of those are forced onto other social programs such as Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program, where they were never supposed to end up. They were supposed to receive benefits for as long as their injury lasts, but in WSIB’s drive to cut costs, many workers end up being injured emotionally and financially by the very agency that was supposed to be there to protect them if they got injured.
With so many workers in vulnerable and precarious positions, we cannot be silent in the face of a workers’ compensation system that is more concerned with its own bottom line than with protecting the well-being of injured workers. We need to come together and demand our right to fair compensation. This is why we gather at Queens’s Park and march down to the Ministry of Labour on June 1st.
The real roots of Injured Workers Day, June 1st, are in changes the Bill Davis government was trying to make to the workers’ compensation system in 1983. Because of pressure from injured workers and the sheer number of injured workers who turned out, MPPs ended up holding public hearings into that piece of legislation on the front steps of Queen’s Park on June 1, 1983. Some of the same injured workers and their allies who pushed for those hearings on the front lawn of Queen’s Park in 1983 still join in today.
This year, we take to the streets with a focus on some of the workers whose toxic and unsafe work environments have injured them or made them sick – sometimes terminally so. And yet their claims are still being denied by the WSIB. These segments of workers include the miners exposed to McIntyre Power Aluminum dust, as well as a contingent of workers exposed to hazards at the Peterborough General Electric factory. Also present will be a group of healthcare workers who are dealing with an epidemic of violence in their workplace, and struggling with the WSIB for recognition. The healthcare workers will be supported en masse by their union, CUPE Ontario, whose entire convention will be out at the rally.
All of the above organizing shows us that although many of us were put through the emotional and financial wringer by our workplace accidents and our subsequent battles with WSIB, we end up emerging stronger for it. Strong enough to advocate for ourselves and others and strong enough to take to cycling from Ottawa to Toronto for the third year. And strong enough to campaign for real changes to the provision of compensation and administration by the WSIB in the 2018 provincial election.
We hope to see you on the front lawn of Queen’s Park at 11:30 a.m. June 1st.

Women Can No Longer be Forced to Wear High Heels in B.C. Workplaces

Risks of slipping or falling and possible damage to the feet, legs and back cited as reasons for new rules
Karin Larsen · CBC News April 7, 2017

The B.C. government has banned workplace requirements that force women to wear high heels. 
A mandatory high-heel dress code “is a workplace health and safety issue,” says the release put out by Premier Christy Clark and Labour Minister Shirley Bond.  
“There is a risk of physical injury from slipping or falling, as well as possible damage to the feet, legs and back from prolonged wearing of high heels while at work.”

Amendments to the Workers Compensation Act will “ensure that workplace footwear is of a design, construction and material that allows the worker to safely perform their work and ensures that employers cannot require footwear contrary to this standard,” said the release.
Bond credits B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver for initiating the change.
Last month Weaver introduced a bill in the provincial legislature asking for amendments to the Workers Compensation Act to make it illegal for an employer to require different footwear for women than for men.
​According to the statement, WorkSafeBC will develop workplace guidelines around the amended regulation which will be available at the end of this month. 

Families Want Police to Jail Employers for Workplace Deaths

By Mike De Souza in News, Politics | April 28th 2017

The warning signs were there.

In the months before Olivier Bruneau was killed on the job, his loved ones say he told just about everyone he knew that his workplace was dangerous.

Bruneau was 25 at the time of his tragic accident, on March 23, 2016. He was struck by a large chunk of ice that detached from a wall in the construction pit where he was working. It’s the site of a new luxury condo tower in the Little Italy neighbourhood of Ottawa.

“Since the winter holiday season in 2015, Olivier talked to us about the ice all the wtime,” Katia St. Jacques, who was Bruneau’s partner, told National Observer. “Even friends of my parents — after the accident happened, they told me: ‘we saw him two times in our life and that each time he spoke to us about ice.’ He was really concerned about it and there was an accident before — a worker who was struck by ice. This previous accident wasn’t as serious but the guys were concerned on the construction site.”

Bruneau is one of an estimated 1,000 people in Canada who are killed on the job every year. Laws exist to prevent these accidents from happening and punish those responsible, but labour union activists say the government needs to do more to ensure that rules are enforced.

“What’s really hard in cases like these is that the person who you love has passed away, and you can’t find out what happened,” said Christian Bruneau, Olivier’s father.

Allen Martin says he gets frustrated when he hears stories like the tragedy that struck Bruneau and his family. Martin’s brother, Glenn David, was one of the 26 people who were killed on May 9, 1992, when an explosion rocked the Westray coal mine in Nova Scotia.

Bruneau is one of an estimated 1,000 people in Canada who are killed on the job every year. Laws exist to prevent these accidents from happening and punish those responsible, but labour union activists say the government needs to do more to ensure that rules are enforced.

“What’s really hard in cases like these is that the person who you love has passed away, and you can’t find out what happened,” said Christian Bruneau, Olivier’s father.

Allen Martin says he gets frustrated when he hears stories like the tragedy that struck Bruneau and his family. Martin’s brother, Glenn David, was one of the 26 people who were killed on May 9, 1992, when an explosion rocked the Westray coal mine in Nova Scotia.

Labour union activists have also urged governments to improve training for investigators and prosecutors to deal with these types of cases.

“It has to be treated as a crime scene,” said Debbie Martin, who was Glenn’s sister-in-law. “You can’t let the company take control and destroy the evidence, which is what happened at Westray.”

Twenty-five years after that accident, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government says it recognizes there’s a problem and that it intends to fix it

“We will do more to ensure that labour inspectors and law enforcement officials are properly trained in the provisions of the law, and that they coordinate effectively to ensure that the possibility of a charge for criminal negligence resulting in a serious injury or death is not overlooked,” said Labour Minister Patty Hajdu and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in a joint statement released late Thursday.

The government also pledged in its last budget to improve protection for vulnerable workers who file complaints about labour standards in order to make workplaces safer.

“We’ll make sure that employers who repeatedly violate the (Labour) Code’s requirements face consequences,” said Matt Pascuzzo, a spokesman for Minister Hajdu. “For example, employers who violate the Code’s provisions and do not come into compliance voluntarily will face monetary penalties and employers who violate the Code repeatedly could also have their names and other information published in the public domain. In the long-run, the amendments will mean fewer injuries and fatalities in the workplace and much better treatment for employees.”

“Have to start putting people in jail”

The message was timed for Friday’s National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job.

“We will promote the sharing of best practices in investigating workplace fatalities across federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions,” the statement said.

“Our government recognizes that more can and must always be done to make our workplaces safe, and to give Canadian workers confidence in the laws that exist to protect them.”

Ottawa police say they are still investigating the death of Olivier Bruneau, but they haven’t filed any charges yet.

Meantime, the Ontario Ministry of Labour has filed charges under provincial worker safety legislation against the condo developer, Claridge Homes, the construction company, Bellai Brothers, and two supervisors in connection with the tragedy. Neither company responded to requests for comment from National Observer.

Their case is scheduled to return to the Ontario Court of Justice on May 25.

Meantime, both Christian Bruneau and Allen Martin agree that authorities need to make sure that employers aren’t allowed to simply pay a small fine for an accident that could have been avoided.

“Until it becomes unprofitable to do what they’re doing, they’re going to keep doing it,” said Martin.

“And writing cheques is not a problem for them. They’re going to have to start putting people in jail.”

Bill 127, Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017 Sousa, Hon Charles Minister of Finance Current Status: First Reading Carried

Introduction By Terri Aversa
You’ve likely heard that the budget bill 127 contains proposed amendments to WSIA—ie like recognizing chronic mental stress in line with the Charter challenges, other legal cases, and all our lobbying.

However we need to look beyond the gift horse to look at some other troubling amendments being proposed within that bill.

Other amendments propose to legislatively allow WSIB to make policies about how to interpret and apply the Act, establish evidentiary requirements, and set out adjudicative principles. The WSIB’s policies are binding on the Tribunal. So these amendments would give the WSIB increased power to control the Tribunal’s decision making. Injured worker representatives are very concerned that the WSIB would use this increased policy-making power to restrict benefits both for chronic mental stress and for any other conditions. The WSIB has been on a benefit-cutting spree for several years now. Giving it more power over the Tribunal is scary …

The ombudsman complaint made by the IW community alleges that the WSIB is acting illegally and not in tandem with the WSIA. The Fink lawsuit alleges “malfeasance” of the WSIB in that it is allegedly doing things (like influencing doctor opinions) contrary to the Act. Well wouldn’t these amendments if allowed—just make its current practices within the law, ie make it LEGAL for the WSIB to have these horrible practices and adjudicative rules as part of the LAW so as to neutralize any allegations that they are outside of the law?

Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act (Budget Measures), 2017

EXPLANATORY NOTE

The Bill implements measures contained in the 2017 Ontario Budget and enacts, amends and repeals various Acts. Included are the major elements of the Bill regarding the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Please visit http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?locale=en&Intranet=&BillID=4778 for all elements of the Bill.

SCHEDULE 33
WORKPLACE SAFETY AND INSURANCE ACT, 1997

The Schedule makes various amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.

Section 13 of the Act is amended to provide that a worker is entitled to benefits under the insurance plan for chronic or mental stress arising out of and in the course of the worker’s employment. A worker is not entitled to benefits for mental stress caused by decisions or actions of the worker’s employer relating to the worker’s employment, including a decision to change the work to be performed or the working conditions, to discipline the worker or to terminate the employment.

Section 43 of the Act, which governs payments for loss of earnings is amended. New rules that provide for the method of determining amounts payable for full and partial loss of earnings are enacted, and transitional matters are provided for.

Amendments are made to sections 46 and 48 of the Act to update the dollar amounts used to calculate compensation for a worker’s non-economic loss and death benefits payable upon the death of a worker.

Section 51 of the Act is amended to provide that certain amounts adjusted under that section are not invalid.

Section 110 of the Act, which governs the application of the pre-1997 Act in certain circumstances, is amended to provide that certain limits on the amount of a permanent partial disability supplement do not apply to the supplement as adjusted annually. The section is also amended to provide that certain reductions on amounts payable do not apply in certain circumstances.

Finally, section 159 of the Act is amended to provide the Board with the power to establish policies concerning the interpretation and application of the Act, and concerning requirements and principles to be applied when establishing entitlement to benefits.

Letter to the Editor – Suggestions to Fix a Broken WSIB

Posted: Friday, April 28, 2017 10:30 am

Open Letter to Premier Wynne in regard to the National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed and Injured at Work, April 28:

I am disappointed that the only reference to future directions for the WSIB in the minister of Labour’s mandate letter is “Continue to ensure that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board provides a fair and equitable system for injured workers and employers while supporting it in its efforts to eliminate the unfunded liability by 2021-2022, and also reducing overall premiums on average.” There is no mention to protecting the health, safety and security of injured and disabled workers and their families.

Yes, the WSIB has reduced their unfunded liability by over $7 billion — but that has come at a cost borne by disabled workers and their families. Financial benefits for injured and disabled workers have been cut by billions of dollars. There are record numbers of appeals awaiting resolution at the WSIA Tribunal. Disabled workers are forced back to work too soon and close to 45 per cent of those are hurt a second or third time — increasing their permanent impairment. And in response, the WSIB denies their subsequent claim blaming it on pre-existing conditions.

Is this a fair trade-off so the WSIB can have a reserve fund of $20 billion?

Can I suggest an evidence-based approach? You mention that in the mandate letter but the WSIB refuses to collect data on the long-term consequences of work injury. Requiring the WSIB to track long-term outcomes could be the first step to creating the evidence necessary to make informed decisions about the lives of real people — those 60,000 Ontario workers who have injuries or diseases at work who must take time off to heal every year in Ontario.

When a significant portion of these workers end up permanently disabled, unemployed, losing their families and living in poverty, how does that promote economic growth and an Ontario that we can be proud of?

I have been working with independent academic researchers for the past 20 years to better understand the system put in place to support workers when they are injured or made sick on the job. The poor outcomes for far too many workers have been documented in peer-reviewed journals, and yet the WSIB management chose to ignore this evidence. Does this sound like a fair and equitable system? I think not.

So, on this National Day of Mourning for Workers Killed and Injured at Work, please help us to restore balance to the WSIB, an important piece of our social safety net in Ontario.

Steve Mantis

Thunder Bay