Injured workers groups have probably been around as long as there have been workers compensation systems in Canada. Being injured at work is much more than a medical event. A worker is faced with an immediate loss of income and self-esteem, and forced to find internal resources to rebuild his or her life. In addition, an injured worker must cope with a compensation system that seems more intent on policing benefit pay-outs than on rehabilitation and restoring the individual to full, productive employment. Faced with this situation, it is only human to seek out those in the same situation, for information, consolation, advice, and perhaps advocacy assistance with the complex bureaucracy of Workers' Compensation Boards.
Faced with this kind of system, injured workers groups across Canada have been organizing themselves at the local, provincial, and territorial levels for several decades. In Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland/Labrador, provincial coalitions have been formed. Over time, specialized service organizations also evolved, such as the legal clinics in Ontario that deal only with Workers' Compensation. Furthermore, there has been a growing level of support from the trade union movement. This has provided additional support for continued organizing beyond the local, provincial, and territorial levels.
In 1989, a national committee was formed to organize and convene the first national conference of injured worker groups. This committee consisted of Orlando Buonastella, Injured Workers Consultants in Toronto; Andy King, National Health and Safety Representative, United Steelworkers of America; Steve Mantis, Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group; and Wolfgang Zimmermann, Disabled Forestry Workers of B.C.
The "National Conference on Re-Employment of Injured Workers" was subsequently convened at the Holiday Inn in Ottawa, June 12 - 15, 1990. The conference examined subjects such as the wage loss system, union attitudes and programs, and the programs available to injured workers not only in Canada, but also in West Germany and Australia. The Conference adopted a number of resolutions including one on the formation of a national network of injured worker organizations.
The purpose of this network is to:
•enhance the provincial organizations.
•analyze common trends.
The national conference then elected the CIWA organizing committee to carry out this mandate. The organizing committee was composed of one representative from each province, except P.E.I. In order to provide continuity, the members of the original committee became advisors to the new organizing committee.