Looking to Liaise with Injured Workers and Labour Groups to Try to Connect with People Advocating for Environmental Health in the Workplace, Specifically for Toxics-Free Workplaces

Hello,

I am a lawyer with Ecojustice, a national environmental law charity who works in the Healthy Communities team. Our team is focused on bringing litigation on toxics, with a focus on marginalized communities. I’m interested in liaising with some injured workers and labour groups to try to connect with people advocating for environmental health in the workplace, specifically for toxics-free workplaces. I’m particularly interested in liaising with workers in industrial sectors like mining, smelting, refining as well as agricultural workers who deal with pesticides.

If you or someone you know might have interests in this area please let me know how to get in touch.

Many thanks!

Laura Bowman
Barrister & Solicitor | Ecojustice
1910-777 Bay Street, PO Box 106, Toronto, ON M5G 2C8
T: 416-368-7533 | 1-800-926-7744 ext. 522
C: 647-639-6561
F: 416-363-2746

ROOT CAUSES OF POVERTY IN CANADA; Study of federal ridings suggests link to discrimination and systemic inequality, rather than luck or poor individual choice

Laurie Monsebraaten
The Toronto Star , June 18, 2018

Federal ridings with the most child and family poverty in Canada are also home to the highest proportions of Indigenous, visible minority, immigrant and single-parent families, according to a new study.

These ridings are also more likely to have high unemployment, low rates of labour force participation, more renters and people paying more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, says the report released Monday by Campaign 2000, a national coalition of more than 120 organizations
dedicated to ending child poverty.

The findings, based on the latest 2016 census and 2015 income tax data, suggest poverty is linked to persistent discrimination and systemic inequality, rather than luck, or poor individual choice, adds the report.

Area single mother Jane Syvret, 27, who is of Indigenous and Black heritage, says her family is the face of the Campaign 2000 report. She and her three young children live in Regent Park, part of Toronto Centre, the riding with the fourth highest child poverty rate in the country.

The study comes in advance of Ottawa’s long-awaited national poverty-reduction strategy, expected this month, and urges the federal government to act decisively.

“After decades of waiting for federal action, the first poverty-reduction strategy must ensure Canada stops only tallying the number of children in poverty and starts to number poverty’s days instead,” said Anita Khanna, Campaign 2000’s national co-ordinator.

“Given Canada’s wealth, no child should go to bed hungry. No parent should be forced to choose between paying rent and buying medication or miss out on work or training for lack of quality affordable childcare,” she added.

The coalition, which has been documenting “the failure of good intentions” to end child poverty in Canada for almost 30 years, wants Ottawa to set aggressive poverty-busting goals and timelines and is calling for federal anti-poverty legislation before the 2019 election to hold future governments to account.

Twenty-six ridings with the highest child poverty rates are in Ontario and half are in the city of Toronto, according to the report.

Syvret’s riding of Toronto Centre includes a large social housing community as well as pricey Bay St. condos, is home to many visible minorities and recent immigrants. A troubling 40 per cent of children in the riding are growing up poor.

Although she grew up in poverty as one of nine siblings in a family with working parents, Syvret says she never “felt poor.”

“We were a big loving family and we never wanted for anything at home,” she said in an interview. “There were always programs available to local kids, with mentors and people who cared about us.”

But as the area redeveloped, community programs closed in favour of new facilities that draw kids from across the city, leaving many local families shut out, said Syvret, who pays market rent and is struggling to survive on welfare with a newborn and two other daughters ages 2 and 9.

Although she has worked since she was 15 in recreation and food preparation, she knows minimum-wage jobs won’t pull her young family out of poverty. But adult education and skills upgrading programs are difficult to access, she said.

“Why is everything always full?” she said. “These are supports that are put in place to help. But if they are always full, that means there is not a lot of help.”

As Campaign 2000 noted in its annual report card last fall, more than 1.2 million children – 17.4 per cent – were living in poverty in 2015, including a staggering 38 per cent of Indigenous children.

Children are considered to be poor if their families are living below the Low Income Measure, after taxes, or 50 per cent of the median Canadian income. In 2015, that was about $24,500 for a single parent with one child and about $36,400 for a couple with two kids.

The coalition’s latest analysis shows 162 of Canada’s 338 federal ridings have child poverty rates at or above the national average and include both rural and urban communities represented by MPs from all political parties.

In the 66 ridings with the highest rates of child poverty, an average of 30 per cent of children – or more than 400,000 – are growing up poor.

Ridings with the least child poverty are still home to more than 90,000 low-income families and nearly 150,000 low-income children, the report notes.

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski in northern Manitoba has the highest rate of child poverty at more than 64 per cent, while the Quebec ridings of Montarville, in the southwest end of the province and Levis-Lotbinière, near Quebec City, have the lowest, at just 4 per cent.

In ridings with the most child poverty, an average of 16 per cent of residents are recent immigrants and about 37 per cent are visible minorities. An average of 45 per cent are renters.

In ridings with the least child poverty, an average of 6 per cent are recent immigrants, 14 per cent are visible minorities and just 21 per cent are renters.

Khanna says fighting child poverty requires a combination of financial and social supports to help families like Syvret’s.

“Universal child care, drug and dental coverage, affordable housing, improved employment insurance and support for workers are all needed,” Khanna said. “With every riding affected by poverty, every riding will benefit from a strong federal strategy.”

Reduce child and family poverty by 50% by 2020, with 2015 as base year.
Reduce Canada’s poverty rate by 50% in five years, 75% in 10 years.
Reduce deep poverty by 50% within four years and 75% within a decade
Ensure the poverty rate for children under 18, female lone-parent households, single senior women, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, recent immigrants, and racialized people also declines by 50% in four years and by 75% in 10 years in recognition that poverty is concentrated within these populations.
Ensure every person has an income that reaches at least 75% of the poverty line in two years.
Ensure there is affordable and supportive housing for all in 10 years.
Reduce by half the number of households who report food insecurity within four years.
Reduce income inequality by lowering the share of after-tax income held by the wealthiest 10% in four years.

Other elements needed include:
Universal, affordable, quality child care with long-term funding equal to OECD benchmark of 1% of GDP;
$15 minimum wage in federally-regulated industries with future increases tied to inflation;
National pharmacare, dental care and rehabilitation services for those not covered by workplace plans;
Increased employment insurance benefits and reduced entry requirements to better serve workers in low-wage precarious jobs along with improved maternity and parental leave benefits;
Ensure social assistance funded through the Canada Social Transfer lifts those receiving it out of poverty and eliminates hunger;
National housing benefit, youth homelessness strategy, supportive housing for people with mental, physical and intellectual disabilities.

*Unless otherwise specified, the base year for evaluating the success of the targets above should be the year prior to
implementation of the federal strategy.

Understaffing at Ontario workers’ compensation board creates ‘toxic’ work environment, union survey says

By SARA MOJTEHEDZADEHWork and Wealth Reporter
Thu., May 31, 2018

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board exists to compensate injured workers and promote safety on the job — but its own employees say they are so overburdened that their work environment is “toxic,” according to the results of a survey obtained by the Star.
Work overload and understaffing at the provincial workers’ compensation board have left front line employees unable to “keep up with the volume of work,” a January 2018 survey conducted by the Ontario Compensation Employees Union (OCEU) to assess workplace strain found.

A OCEU newsletter sent to staff in March says the union provided the survey results to the WSIB as well as “troubling real-life stories” of “members that have had to take time off work due to work-related stress.” (FRANCIS VACHON / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Some 90 per cent of the 263 employees who responded to the survey said work-related stress was impacting their personal lives and 92 per cent attributed the workload issues to understaffing.
A OCEU newsletter sent to staff in March says the union provided the survey results to the WSIB as well as “troubling real-life stories” of “members that have had to take time off work due to work-related stress” and “who are experiencing insomnia due to anxiety tied to concerns with job performance and the lack of support from the organization.”
The newsletter notes that a petition spearheaded by the union on workload issues attracted 1,321 signatures. OCEU represents 3,301 employees at the WSIB.
The WSIB did not say whether or not it believed its organization had a staffing issue or if anything specific had been done to address it. Spokesperson Christine Arnott said the board has “a very talented team of professional staff who are here to help people recover and return to work.”
“Our results show we’re helping people and continuously improving,” she added.
Around 8 per cent of the unionized workforce responded to the workload survey conducted by OCEU, which represents the WSIB’s front line workers such as case managers.
The union’s March newsletter claims that “WSIB senior leadership does not agree there is a workload problem. But the newsletter says the issue has “plagued” members and is “a direct result of the hiring freeze or hiring slowdown in 2016.”
In 2014, there were 3,515 unionized staff members and 926 managers at the WSIB, according to OCEU. By 2017, there were 3,301 unionized employees at the board — a 6 per cent decrease. Conversely, the number of managers grew to 1,098 — a 16 per cent increase.
WSIB employees’ workload has also worsened because of an unforeseen increase in the number of Ontario injured workers’ filing claims, the newsletter said, as well as a legislative reform that opened the door to new kinds of injury claims; last year, the Ontario government made significant legal changes to make workers with work-related chronic mental stress issues eligible for WSIB coverage.

Steve Mantis says workload issues faced by WSIB staff can impact the service received by injured workers filing compensation claims. (HANDOUT)
A 2017 survey conducted for OCEU by Toronto-based pollsters Environics found that job satisfaction amongst WSIB staff had dropped to a “new low” of 45 per cent and that 61 per cent of employees described their workplace as “not psychologically safe and healthy.” The survey results do not cite the methodology.
Steve Mantis, who became an injured worker advocate after losing his left arm in a workplace accident, says workload issues faced by WSIB staff can impact the service received by injured workers filing compensation claims.
“You know you need help — often times both in terms of health care as well as financial support — and you’re not getting any clear information,” he said. “The folks that are there to help me are feeling stressed out as well. It’s a double problem because they don’t feel able to handle the situation in a way they would like to handle it either.”
Mantis sought an assessment from the WSIB in December for the deterioration of his right arm, which he relies on after his workplace accident. He is still waiting for a decision.
“Luckily I’ve got support in other parts of my life, so it’s manageable. But I can really get stressed out by this interaction and lack of response on something that is really critical to my health and long-term well being,” he said.
The Star has previously reported on complaints that workers sometimes face delays in receiving fair benefits, a process that can be complicated by cumbersome appeals. A report by the Industrial Accident Victims Group, a Toronto-based legal clinic, found that the independent workers’ compensation appeals tribunal was overturning hundreds of WSIB decisions determined to be “unreasonable” and “arbitrary.”
The WSIB’s Arnott says the board receives around 250,000 claims every year and that 93 per cent of eligibility decisions are made within two weeks of the claim being registered.
“People are now receiving their first benefit payment cheque more than 10 days faster than they were just one year ago — 80 per cent of people are being paid within three weeks of their claim being filed,” Arnott said, adding that a declining number of appeals indicates the board is also “making the right decisions the first time around.”