ONIWG (Ontario Network of Injured Worker Groups) met with the Minister of Labour in January and discussed several topics. Those topics included Experience Rating, Extended Health Benefits, 72 month lock-in, Indexation/COLA, Deeming, Coverage and the reappointment of I. Greg Marshall.
The minister expressed mixed amounts of support for the issues that were brought forward but agreed to review many of those issues. He made it clear that he saw this appointment as long term and wanted to continue his dialogue with the Ontario Network of Injured Worker Groups.
In fact a second meeting has been arranged between the ONIWG and the Premier’s Office.
A more detailed review of the meeting follows for those interested.
A Meeting With the MInister
On January 22nd, 2015, several members of the Ontario Network of Injured Worker Support Groups met with Kevin Flynn, the Ontario Minister of Labour, and some of his aids. This meeting was organized so that the Minister could hear the concerns of Injured Workers and our ONIWG leadership made sure he did.
Orlando Buonastella, ONIWG, began a discussion on the 72 month Lock-down which is scheduled to stop. Orlando provided documentation supporting the continuation of the 72 month lock-down and Catherine Fenech shared a real live story that showed how stressful endless reviews can be for an Injured Worker. The Minister shared with the group that Employer Groups have advised him that there are people working after they have been locked in. Andrew Bome took advantage of this comment to enlighten the Minister regarding the need for injured workers who can’t work at their previous jobs, may still be able to find part time work to supplement their income from WSIB and that unless the combined income from WSIB and their new work was more than their pre-injury employment wage there shouldn’t be an issue from employers. It was also mentioned that many Injured workers are in fact receiving welfare to supplement their WSIB income as deemed income has left them below the welfare eligibility line. The value of the 72 month lock-in should be decided on the real numbers and not on one or two exceptions. The ONWIG members explained that they believed that the 72 month lock-down came into existence because a worker employment picture was not going to change after 6 years but that it was now being cancelled because KPMG recommended it as a cost saving measure. The Minister made a commitment to further review the 72 month lock-in as he certainly received a great deal to think about from the discussion.
The Minister did not make a commitment to indexation but he did state that the current process was not fair to those on partial benefits. ONIWG provided information supporting the need for a real Cost of Living Adjustment and went further in reminding the Minister that, although this would be very important to many Injured Workers, a COLA would do little for those who are deemed or only in receipt of a hundred dollars.
There was also a discussion around the need for a study of what happens with Injured Workers in the longer term. Do they really return to work? What are they really earning? Our own Steve Mantis has been a long-time advocate for doing studies that really tell us what is happening Injured Workers in their lives. He seems to have been finding disciples on these issues as Thunder Bay Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle had, according to the Ministry, sent a similar request to the Minister.
The Minister agreed with the ONIWG members that the Experience Rating Program didn’t work, as the Minister had been hearing complaints from all sides. ONIWG expressed their believe that employers should not be rewarded for doing what they should already be doing but at the same time those who are not living up to their obligations should be punished. The Minister was also advised that the Experience Rating Program created benefits mostly for Employer Consultants.
Currently Ontario has the lowest percentage of workers covered by Workers Compensation in Ontario. If WSIB were to cover and receive funds for the 38% of Ontarians currently not covered there would be another $200,000,000.00 in their coffers. The Ministry side stated that , although there are a number of ways to generate revenue, they were to be reviewing coverage over the coming weeks.
ONIWG expressed its disappointment at the rehiring of I. Greg Marshall.
Just before the meeting wound up, ONIWG brought up the issue of the Extended Health Care Benefits ending after one year. It was pointed out that if an Injured Worker was initially denied Compensation then the worker would not even receive the 12 month coverage. This is clearly unfair to Injured Workers.
As the meeting closed up ONIWG presented a funding proposal to the Minister. (Currently although ONIWG is frequently asked for feedback from both WSIB and the Ministry of Labour it has no Government Funding and is dependent on other donations) The Minister did not seem to be aware of this document although one was presented to his predecessor. ONIWG expressed that the Ministry had not replied to the earlier request. The Minister agreed to review the item.
The Minister made it clear he wanted to be the Minister of Labour and had no aspiration of moving on. The Minister wanted to continue having these meetings preferably with a smaller group.
“When is comes to Workers Compensation in Ontario I have been taught to be a pessimist” said ONIWG chair Eugene Lefrancios after the meeting “ but it was a good meeting and perhaps, just perhaps, we have reason to be hopefull”
Since this discussion a new meeting has been arranged between ONIWG and the Premier’s office. Indeed Eugene hope does spring eternal.