Toronto Star Editorial 31/01/2016

 Investigate workers’ complaints: Editorial

Doctors join injured workers to demand fair compensation.

Published on Sun Jan 31 2016

Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the provincial agency that provides compensation for workers injured on the job, has been a lightning rod since it was set up in 1914.

Workers accuse it of skimping on benefits, cutting short their medical treatment and forcing them back to work. Employers, whose premiums finance the board, accuse it of coddling malingerers.

This time, the WSIB is facing more than a protest or routine complaint. More than 20 doctors have joined the Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups and the Ontario Federation of Labour in demanding that the province’s ombudsman investigate the 4,400-person bureaucracy. They allege the board’s employees “systematically ignore the advice of medical professionals” in their decisions.

“The compensation system has been in retreat since the 1990s,” they contend in their 200-page page submission to acting ombudsman Barbara Finlay. “Persons with worked-induced disabilities are vulnerable. They frequently suffer mental health consequences and at heightened risk of poverty.”

The group’s lawyers have compiled case after case in which the board overruled the advice provided by claimant’s doctor and clawed back the individual’s benefits, leaving him or her with little choice but to return to work in pain, on heavy medications or suffering from clinical depression.

The coalition is not demanding that Labour Minister Kevin Flynn intervene in the board’s decision-making. It is not asking that Elizabeth Witmer, chair of the WSIB, be called on the carpet. It is not proposing that Ontario’s Workplace Safety Act be rewritten. It is not challenging the board’s right to seek a second medical opinion.

It merely wants the provincial ombudsman, whose job is look into complaints about government services, to investigate the treatment of injured workers. That seems reasonable.

The request comes at an opportune time. A new president is about to take over. Last month the Liberal government named Thomas Teahen, an employment and labour lawyer who served as chief of staff to Premier Kathleen Wynne, as head of the WSIB. His five-year term begins in February.

Balancing the needs of Ontarians hurt or disabled on the job against the need to manage the agency’s caseload will always be a challenge, one that requires a compassion, hard-headedness, consistency and fairness.

If there is convincing evidence that the WSIB is erring on the side of financial discipline at the expense of injured workers who need support, its incoming president, the labour minister and the premier need to know about it.

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