By Greg Snider with thanks to Steve Mantis and Jules Tupker
A recent discussion during the TBDIWSG Board meeting left me wondering if Michael Gravelle was right a decade ago when, after I made a presentation to a Government standing committee, he said I was being cynical.
Then the issue was the Liberals efforts to improve the Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disabilities Act. Today it is the Liberals efforts to improve the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
The Board discussion centered on three actions taken by the currently Minister of Labour Kevin “not Errol” Flynn. Three actions that the Injured Workers Community generally see as good and event victories in their fight for Justice and although I agree that there is more silver cloud in these three decisions then black lining it is important we don’t let the black lining go unmentioned or worse unnoticed. Let’s take a look at each.
The first action was Minister Flynn’s decision to not go forward with plans to end the 72 month lock in. A simplistic definition of the “lock in” is that Injured Workers who are unable to obtain employment for 72 months after their injury the WSIB benefits will be made permanent. This was very important to injured workers as it would allow them to get on with the rest of their lives. This is really good news since taking away the Lock In would have had a serious effect on the most seriously injured workers. After getting his new position as Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn listened to what Injured Workers had to say about the Lock In and reversed the governments direction. But this crisis was a Liberal creation. This was a victory for the Injured Workers movement but it wasn’t a gain. It also raises red flags about how dependent we are one Minister continuing in his position.
The second action by the Liberal Government was to implement a automatic Cost of Living Adjustment for those Injured Workers who currently do not get a COLA increase at the beginning of each year. This has been a long time request of Injured Workers and can amount to a significant amount of money if a worker is injured for a period of time. Can’t be cynical about this, while not after 2018 when it gets implemented. Meanwhile Injured Workers affected by this change only received a 0.5 % increase this year (COLA for Ontario 1.3 %).
The last action for discussion here was an increase in the fine to Companies proven to have suppressed Injured Workers from filing with WSIB. This looks very good on the face of it, until you look at what it is designed to fix (Claim Suppression) and why it needs fixing. Claim Suppression, as we all know, exists because WSIB rewards or punishes employers in a way that strongly encourages the suppression of claims. Perhaps the Government believes that WSIB can not change it’s current system and the only choice they have is to increase the punishment to companies. If this is true then there are other questions that we must ask.
- How many companies are successfully fined for suppressing claims in a year?
- How often do those companies face the maximum fine?
- Do these fines actually get collected?
After considering all of this and knowing that the Premier’s office has begun having regular meetings with the Premiers Office has me feeling hopeful for the future. However, the Government solving a problem (Cancellation 72 month lock in) it created and developing the wrong solution for another problem (claim suppression) and delaying the solution to a third (COLA Clause) leaves me feeling cynical, but as I told Michael a decade ago I’m not needlessly cynical. The Government and WSIB have a long way to go and these steps are small steps and in one case, I believe, a misstep.
The challenge before the Injured Workers movement is to both reward the Government for the improvements they have made while still maintaining pressure on the Government to do not just more, but because we are so far back a lot more.