Thank you for the opportunity to share with you some of our thoughts concerning your task of reviewing the Employment Standards and Labour Relations Acts.
Work and workplaces are changing. We submit that your task in reviewing these changes is a real challenge as our society is moving away from valuing workers and the work they do.
Work is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, parts of our adult lives. It can bring economic security; the ability to provide for our families. Work can give us a purpose in life – a way to contribute to the greater good. Productive, meaningful employment can lead to healthy individuals and healthy communities. It can help us connect with others building strong social networks.
Some may say that this is only a dream; that in our global economy we must all compete. We must compete against workers in the States who work for $8 an hour and who have no health coverage. We must compete against workers overseas who work for $2 an hour. We must compete against our co-workers for our very jobs – as seen in the submission made last week to you by the Injured Workers’ Consultants Community Legal Clinic (attached). In their example, a Toronto construction worker was fired after becoming injured at work and asking for 1 day off to heal.
This is the present environment in which you must make your recommendations. There is a significant shift in our society in support of the top 1%. Income inequality is increasing rapidly leading to a poorer quality of life for all. There is a growing trend toward precarious employment. Employment that drives down wages, drives down the workers’ health status and quality of life; no job security, no benefits, part time, irregular hours of work. Precarious work that has negative impacts on families and growing children. Estimates range from 30 – 45% of our workforce now rely on precarious employment.
Successive governments have moved to supporting global corporations instead of protecting the health, safety and security of its citizens. This hasn’t worked. These corporations have moved more and more to contracting out and ‘employee leasing . Smaller companies taking on these contracts are forced to cut costs to secure their contracts leaving many workers vulnerable.
We are here to say – we can do better. We can create a better future for all of us. With strong employment standards laws and with strong enforcement practices, we can build stronger local economies and communities.
One key to that better future is the ability of workers to collectively bargain. History has shown this to be the most effective means of advancing and protecting workers rights.
The Changing Workplace Review should be guided by the principle of decency, as was the case in Harry Arthurs’ review of the Federal Labour Code:
Labour standards should ensure that no matter how limited his or her bargaining power, no worker […] is offered, accepts or works under conditions that Canadians would not regard as decent. No worker should therefore receive a wage that is insufficient to live on; be deprived of the payment of wages or benefits to which they are entitled; be subject to coercion, discrimination, indignity or unwarranted danger in the workplace; or be required to work so many hours that he or she is effectively denied a personal or civic life.
Recommendations – Goals of review
- Curb employer practices that evade or erode the ESA and principle of decent work.
- Support workers’ right to organize individually and collectively.
- Support decent wages and work conditions that support the economy.
- All workers must be protected under the ESA, the LRA and the WSIA including agricultural workers, migrant workers, hospitality servers, etc.
- Work must bring people out of poverty – increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
- Mandate paid sick days for all workers.
- Expand the Canada Pension Plan and/or support for the proposed Ontario plan.
- Proactive, coordinated investigation and enforcement of employment laws.
- Restore the rights of workers to form unions and protect them from reprisals.
Special note: While we support the increase to Ontario’s minimum wage, it could have a negative impact on injured workers’ benefits, which must be prevented. Thousands of workers with a serious injury or disease become unemployed every year. The WSIB estimates (deems) their earnings loss often assuming everyone can get a job making minimum wage. The increase in minimum wage would see these disabled, unemployed workers’ benefits reduced – which is an unacceptable result.
About our Organization
Our group, The Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers Support Group, was founded in 1984 in response to the then pending legislation, Bill 101. The geographic area that the Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers’ Support Group membership resides in is approximately one-quarter of a million square miles.
We are a group of workers (and family members) who have been injured or made sick on the job. We have first hand experience of the WCB/WSIB system and know it needs improvement
The Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers’ Support Group’s (TB&DIWSG) mission is to help create Dignity, Respect and Justice for Injured and Disabled Workers in the Workers’ Compensation System by assisting and educating workers, injured workers, the general public, our elected representatives and WSIB staff.
The organization has four main goals:
- Provide information and support to injured workers;
- Provide analysis of legislation and make recommendations for improvements and reform;
- Educate each other and the general public; and
- Lobby government and the WCB/WSIB to establish Justice for Injured and Disabled Workers.
The TB&DIWSG is a democratically governed group with a Board of Directors elected at the annual general meeting (AGM). Our members are injured workers, family members and other individuals who support injured workers and their issues.
About the Workers Compensation System
We know you are not mandated to review the Workers Compensation and Occupational Health and Safety systems in Ontario, but they too are important parts of our lives at work. These systems have been subjected to the same pressures as Employment Standards and Labour Relations and we have seen significant deterioration in the protection workers receive.
The Workers Compensation System and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has been off loading costs from a system funded through workplace employment payroll costs unto individuals and the public purse. Over one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000) in direct costs are being downloaded by the WSIB annually. These costs now borne by the public include Social Assistance, CPP-D, ODSP, Health care, loss of income impacting the local economy and deteriorating health status of the disabled workers.
The indirect costs of disallowing thousands of disability claims each year is upwards of $3 billion annually. And the costs to workers and their families – Ontario citizens and voters – is staggering. Almost 50 of workers with a long term injury become so depressed – beaten down by the system – that they are no longer productive. They may lose their jobs, their families, their homes and their self respect.
And to add insult to injury, workers are often discouraged – or coerced – to not even report injuries. This has serious consequences for workplace health and safety. If injuries aren’t reported, they aren’t investigated – so risks are not identified and eliminated.
This has resulted in a 30% increase in the fatality rate over three years – from 2009 to 2012. According to the WSIB document – 2012 – 2016 Strategic Plan: Measuring results Q4 2012 report – on page 12 – the chart with the five year trend WSIB – Allowed Traumatic Fatalities show 49 in 2009, 58 in 2010, 59 in 2011 and 65 in 2012. So, the increase from 2009 to 2012 is 30.6 %.
Do we really want to see more fatalities in the workplace? Do we really want to have more injured and disabled workers facing depression, loss and suffering in our communities?
This cost shifting increases the stress on the provincial budget at a time when the provincial government is predicting major cutbacks in public services. This cost shifting must stop and the Workers Compensation system must return to its founding principles – compensation for as long as the disability lasts.
Disabled and injured workers have been falling behind for the last 17 years – a reduction of 25% in their benefits – but the current administration has decided that’s not enough.
Some facts from the WSIB quarterly and annual reports include:
- From 2009 to 2010, the WSIB had increased its denial of new claims from 7.9 to 11.3% ;
- By September 2011 there was a $631 million reduction in benefits costs compared to 2010;
- There has been a 74% reduction in the length of vocational rehabilitation plans compared to the year before;
- Average annual benefit paid to a permanently disabled, unemployed worker is reduced to $15,106 a year compared to the average of $21,144 prior to 2010
- There has been a 31.3% reduction in permanent impairment awards compared to 2010.
As our oldest social programs in Canada, the WCB/WSIB is a worthy case study for understanding our public services. We believe it is changing from an historic social compromise struck back in 1913 to a more private, corporate model. Presently the CEO of the Ontario WSIB is a retired banking executive with no workers compensation experience, making over $400,000 per year plus bonuses with a mandate to cut costs.
The result over the last ten years has been a shifting of wealth from disabled workers and their families, many of whom can no longer find work, to the top 1% – to the tune of $1,000,000,000 per year. Plus, the workplace funded system is transferring additional costs to our public social services and health care system in the hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
The end result for thousands of Ontario families is a story of crisis, despair and destruction, in part brought about by the stigma injured workers face. This stigma can be a daily challenge to the worker’s integrity and self respect that can eventually wear a person down until they want to give up. In fact, our totally volunteer group had eight people on suicide watch until we were no longer able to provide that level of service.
In September of 2010, the Minister of Labour and WSIB appointed Professor Harry Arthurs to conduct an independent review of funding of the WSIB and related matters including the issue of benefit indexation for injured workers on partial benefits.
Injured workers on partial benefits have seen the value of the benefits they must rely on eroded by inflation since 1995. Professor Arthurs concluded that fairness clearly involves restoration of full indexation and abandonment of the present ad hoc system of annual adjustments by regulation.
Professor Arthurs found that steps could be taken to restore full indexation for injured workers on partial benefits and restore some of the erosion of the value of those benefits at the same time as reducing the Unfunded Liability (UFL).
1) We recommend that the Ontario Government implement in the upcoming budget Professor Arthurs recommendations:
- restore full indexation for injured workers on partial benefits ;
- to allow for the restoration the value of the eroded benefits of injured workers; and
- to disallow the current practice of ad hoc
Professor Arthurs also made many recommendations for both the Government and the WSIB to take to ensure that that workers are protected and the experience rating programs are consistent with the requirements of the WSIA. Professor Arthurs wrote on page 81 of his report Funding Fairness:
In my view, the WSIB is confronting something of a moral crisis. It maintains an experience rating system under which some employers have almost certainly been suppressing claims; it has been warned – not only by workers but by consultants and researchers – that abuses are likely occurring. But, despite these warnings, the WSIB has failed to take adequate action to forestall or punish illegal claims suppression practices. …. Unless the WSIB … is able to vouch for the integrity and efficacy of its experience rating programs, it should not continue to operate them.
To date the Government and the WSIB have failed to implement Professor Arthurs’ recommendations.
2) We recommend that both the Government and the WSIB immediately and fully implement Professor Arthurs’ recommendation – section 6.1 of his report.
Many workers and employers remain unprotected by Ontario’s workers’ compensation system. Professor Arthurs described the coverage issue as so critical for the future of Ontario’s workplace insurance system that it deserves early and extensive study .
3) We recommend that the Ministry of Labour immediately commission a study on coverage with a view towards increasing coverage and addressing potential problems in implementation.
We have heard serious concerns about benefit reductions to vulnerable injured workers under the present WSIB administration.
4) We recommend that wage loss benefits be based on actual wage loss and not the deeming currently practiced at the WSIB –as was proposed by Minister Peters and passed in the provincial budget in 2007.
We hope that any positive recommendations you make will be better received by this government than those made by Harry Arthurs in his review of Workers Compensation.
Initial Thoughts on the WCB/WSIB as a Public Service
In 1997-98, the Mike Harris government passed the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act – attempting to transform the Workers Compensation Board to a private insurance model.
As a result, overall, we have seen the Workers’ Compensation system become more complex and more adversarial, often to the disadvantage of workers injured or made sick by their work.
This complexity along with the expansion of experience rating – a common private insurance feature – have resulted in the growth of employer representatives or consultants who offer their services to employers. They often suggest they can save the employer money dealing with this big, complex system. Unfortunately, the employer consultants do not usually share the same goals as the employers they work for and certainly not for the system as a whole. They are out for a quick buck, and if the injured worker suffers, no problem. Far too often the employer also suffers with low worker morale and disrupted labour relations. The system itself suffers thru revenue leakage – over $2,000,000,000 over ten years from experience rating rebates and increasing adversarial relationships with its key stakeholder groups.
As the system becomes more adversarial, it faces a challenge of reduced credibility and greater criticism. As confidence in the system wanes, stakeholders more regularly question if its being managed effectively and efficiently. And no one likes to pay into a system they think is out of control . Add to this that successive governments have treated the WSIB/WCB as a political football, in recent time reducing (and keeping low as the unfunded liability rose) employer assessments to the tune of $800,000,000 per year.
We feel that the Workers’ Compensation system has gone out of balance and is now creating undue hardship on workers with a permanent disability/impairment. Big business and the top 1 % are profiting by approximately $1 billion per year. But what about the lives of the people the system was created to serve, injured and disabled workers?
It looks like the government has chosen to accommodate employers’ desire to have lower premium rates. Injured workers want to go back to work, but accommodation for them is discretionary. And if employment is not sustainable, then it’s the injured workers’ fault. And both the Government and the WSIB have resisted keeping track of employment numbers for permanently injured workers.
For over twenty years we have asked the Ministry of Labour and the management of the WSIB – and previously the WCB – to track the outcomes of the people they serve, particularly those injured workers who end up with a permanent, life long disability. We have submitted a proposal to the Minister of Labour to amend the Memorandum of Understanding between the MOL and WSIB to require tracking outcomes (employment, wage loss and health status) of workers with a permanent disability.
No action is being taken. We feel like we are invisible. A recent study (2006) done by Street Health in Toronto on Homelessness found the 57% of the homeless people interviewed were hurt at work.
No one bothers to keep track of our loss and suffering and people believe injured workers get cash for life . This may be a common understanding but not reflected in our experience. We are attaching a survey we did of workers with a permanent disability in Thunder Bay. A few of the findings:
- 71% are living under the poverty line
- 42% are receiving welfare (OW or ODSP)
- 18% are receiving WSIB benefits
- 15% are working
- 63% are depressed
- 15% contemplated suicide
We regularly receive emails such as this:
I have been injured since 1997 with two back surgeries , lower. I am going bankrupt soon. severe depression and stress. All related to my back pain. Injury has moved up to my upper back and neck. I can barely do normal everyday activities. I have been in treatment for self medicating my self. ie alcohol and drugs. i have two children five and 7 months old that suffer for me. me and my wife are at each others throat. I would love to tell my whole story to you. please please contact me i don’t know what to do. cant take the stress no more
We also believe that the failures of the workers’ compensation system end up negatively affecting the bottom line of our provincial and local governments. They are being billed to assist Ontario citizens who become hurt or are made ill at work and end up unemployed, living in poverty and causing pain and suffering in their families and our communities. Examples of this cost shifting from employers to the public purse include;
- to Canada Pension Disability benefits;
- to Ontario Disability Support Program;
- to E.I. sick pay;
- to Indian Affairs for aboriginal workers;
- to OHIP – public health care;
- to injured workers and their families;
- to child and family social services.
Why are we being ignored?
Our Experiences as Injured and Disabled Workers
It is common for people to understand the world through their own experiences. We as injured and disabled workers have a particular experience to share.
We have seen costs to employers for Workers Compensation reduced by about 30% in the last fifteen years. Ninety percent of these savings have gone to large employers making up only 10% of all employers in the province. That means a savings to these largest employers of over $600,000,000 a year. While at the same time, workers who become injured and disabled are falling further into poverty. Injured Workers have seen their benefits cut by Bill 162 in 1990, by Bill 165 in 1995 and by Bill 99 in 1998.
While benefits for injured and disabled workers were cut, wages for top management at the WCB/WSIB more than doubled so the CEO now makes more than $400,000 per year and the number of staff earning over $100,000 is growing rapidly.
It is believed that by knowing one’s history, we, as a society, can learn from our achievements and mistakes. We encourage you to understand our collective history with the Workers’ Compensation Act and the agency that delivers it to Ontario’s Injured Workers.
The Workers’ Compensation System was created in Canada in 1914-15 following an Ontario Royal Commission led by Chief Justice William Meredith. He called it a Historic Compromise and laid out the following principles:
- Employers: would not get sued leading to social stability that would be the result;
- Workers: no fault system=no delays; non-adversarial, no harassment; an impartial, independent public board;
- Inquiry system: help the worker, give them the benefit of the doubt;
- Employers to pay (as they are protected from lawsuits): the burden was not to fall on the injured worker, their family, or society in general.
- Payment was to occur for as long as the disability lasts;
- Payment was to be based on the concept of lost wages.
To limit the period during which compensation is to be paid regardless of the duration of the disability . . . is in my opinion, not only inconsistent with the principle upon which a true compensation law is based, but (also) unjust to the injured workman for . . . he will be left without earning power at a time when his need of an income will presumably be greater than (before) he was injured.
. . . it would be the gravest mistake if questions as to the scope of the proposed legislation was to be determined, not by consideration of what is just to the working man, but of what he can be least put off with or if the legislature were to be deterred from passing a law designed to do full justice, owing to groundless fears that disaster to the industries of the province would follow from the enactment of it.
Meredith, Final Report, 1915
As our focus for the last 30+ years has been on Workers Compensation and Occupational Health and Safety, we are attaching our Platform for Change that we released earlier this year. While it doesn’t strictly fall in your mandate, it is a significant part of our working lives and the principles contained in the document are transferable to your work at hand.
Support to community groups
The Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy lays out in its principles that people living in poverty need to be involved and consulted; and that the strategy must recognize the heighten risk amoung such groups as immigrants, single mothers, people with disabilities, aboriginal peoples and racialized groups.
In order to accomplish this, democratic organizations controlled by these target groups that bring them together to discuss their issues and concerns and represent them in dealings with the government are vitally important. That’s if the government wants real involvement and consultation. And as it has been pointed out in numerous studies, government must support such community groups financially so that they have a viable voice.
In our case, the Harris Tories cancelled the funding for our local group and our provincial umbrella organization, the Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups, because we wouldn’t keep quiet. Obviously they were not interested in truly involving us in the process.
We are attaching the following appendices for further information.
- Platform for Change
- Short Summary of research findings on Workers Compensation and Return to Work (RTW) in Ontario
- The Changing Workplaces Review
Deputation of Injured Workers’ Consultants Community Legal Clinic
Thunder Bay & District Injure