Cruel cuts at WSIB; Platform for Change would refocus system

This article appeared in the Chronicle Journal on February 19, 2015

GUEST COLUMN

By Steve Mantis

Thunder Bay

The Ontario Workers’ Compensation System is 100 years old this year. It is the original public program in our social safety net.

While we celebrate that the system has provided income support to millions of disabled workers over many years, it is now showing signs of strain.

Like all the other industrialized nations, Canada has been subjected to the pressures of globalization. This has resulted in significant reductions in spending on programs supporting people with disabilities, regardless of how that disability happened.

Workers’ Compensation has turned into “Workplace Insurance” and adjudicators there are now instructed to “look to deny.”

Workers who receive this treatment are ending up discouraged, depressed and feeling helpless. Often they are also unemployed, struggling to makes ends meet and even ending up homeless.

The latest administration at the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has targeted the people most in need of help — those with a permanent, life-long disability.

They have cut the system’s current annual costs by $700 million but the long-term cost savings to the WSIB are in the billions.

The Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group, begun in 1984, has been studying the workers’ compensation system and helping fellow injured and disabled workers.

Our members come from all sectors of society — workers, employers, owner/operators, union activists and civil servants.

The support group believes the system can be improved to the benefit of all our community.

We are releasing our Platform for Change for the Workers Compensation System on Feb. 19.

We believe that the WSIB may be balancing its books in the short term, but causing major hardships to many members in our community.

This short-term vision will leave us all with significant social deficits that lower our quality of life.

By refocusing the system to help workers who have become disabled in the course of their employment, we will see better employment outcomes and workers who have regained their capacity to re-engage in society.

Like the Scandinavian countries that have the best benefits for people with disabilities, they also have the highest levels of employment for disabled workers.

Injured workers need a rehabilitation system that recognizes the special difficulties they face as persons with disabilities in obtaining and maintaining employment.

In Ontario, this rehabilitation system will seek to assist injured workers with both social integration and the attaining of suitable employment.

It will be a system that fully compensates and supports those workers who have suffered a workplace injury or illness, assists such workers in returning to employment with dignity, and aids in protecting all workers from injury or illness at work.

To that end the Platform for Change outlines how this result can be achieved.

Now is the time the Ontario government needs to come to the table and have serious discussions with injured and disabled workers about improving our oldest social program with the intention of having a system that makes us all proud.
Steve Mantis co-founded the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group, the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups and the Canadian Injured Workers Alliance.

Steve Mantis co-founded the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group, the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups and the Canadian Injured Workers Alliance.

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