The Following was Submitted to Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa when he was in Thunder Bay on December 9th to hear Budget Submission.
The TBDIWSG has heard the Minister of Finance expressed a request for specific interest. The TBDIWSG will be focusing most of our submission on ways to grow the economy. In order to understand our submission, you will have to understand two truths. The first truth is that although we believe that the economy exists to serve the people, we also believe that a worker who is working is better for the economy then one who is not. The second truth may be the hardest to believe but, contrary to the stigma regarding injured workers concerning their lack of desire to work, the truth is that injured workers want to get back to permanent and meaningful jobs. Unfortunately, for both these workers and all of us who benefit from a healthy economy, the WSIB has created many barriers to a worker’s recovery. Many of these barriers also have a negative effect for the employers and the economy.
Injured Workers who have been denied benefits by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board have the right to appeal that decision. The current success rate of these appeals is significant. In fact, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal overturned the WSIB’s decision regarding a nurse who suffer a mental trauma after years of harassment from her employer, stating that denying her benefits amounted to a violation of her Human Rights. WSIB responded, saying they had no choice but to continue making that decision because the law required them to do so, even though they knew these cases would be overturned by the WSIAT. Workers who appeal decisions by the WSIB can wait for 8 years or more before receiving a decision that overturns the WSIB’s decision and confirms their entitlement. During this time, the workers receives no compensation. That means he is not entitled to lost wages, re-training, physiotherapy, counselling or even support for returning to work. Instead, a person is left to watch his savings dwindle along with his health as he awaits appropriate supports. How many years does the average Canadian have in their savings accounts. When the savings are gone, the person will then be forced to rely on social assistance. The mental stress created by their decaying financial and physical condition only adds to a person’s poor mental health or creates a mental health issue where none existed. The Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers Support Group is not suggesting that the WSIB should never determine somebody is not eligible for benefits; what we do suggest is that Appeals should never take more then six months to be heard. The WSIB should review WSIAT decisions and where there is a clear and consistent trend of WSIAT overturning a certain decision, then the WSIB’s decision-making process should be in line with the WSIAT. This would ensure that workers will receive all the supports they are entitled to as soon as possible, giving workers the best chance for returning to active duty in Canada’s economy.
Our first recommendations to the Minister are:
- That the Minister Sousa ensure that there is sufficient funding available to clear up the backlog with the WSIAT, following WorkSafeNB’s lead. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/workers-compensation-appeals-tribunal-worksafe-nb-1.3882799
- That WSIB monitor WSIAT decisions and use these decisions to assist with adjudicating at the local level, reflecting those made by the WSIAT. Currently, the WSIAT is overturning roughly 50% of all decisions made at the adjudication level. Injured workers and their families are grossly negatively impacted by this substandard adjudicating. This is not acceptable.
We understand that employers feel that they are, even after the 30% rate cut under the Harris Government, paying enough money for WSIB premiums. Earlier this year, Mr. Robert Piche made the news. WSIB had determined that he should be paying a significantly higher rate than Mr. Piche thought was appropriate. No question there are many who would use his story to say WSIB rates are too high, but that would do an injustice to Mr. Piche and ignore the real problem. WSIB has a hundred and fifty-six different Rate Groups. Yet, as we can see in Mr. Piche’s case, the workplace still managed to elude their classification system and the system that the WSIB set up is not capturing all the businesses. This is an impossibility, yet the WSIB continues to work the system, employing countless work hours determining not one rate for next year but 156 rates, all with their own unique justification for every slight increase or decrease. WSIB persists to work with people like Mr. Piche, justifying their decision or recognizing their error, seeking a compromise which leaves both sides unhappy. This is a great cost to both the WSIB and Mr. Piche. Larger corporation hire lawyers and consultants to haggle over such matters. Whole companies exist to do just this haggling. And for what? To produce what product? What service do they provide that furthers the economy? If the money currently being spent by WSIB to implement 156 different rates, not to mention the money spent justifying the millions of decisions that only need to be made because WSIB has more than one rate, were spent giving people who want to work the tools and support they needed to return to a productive life on a permanent basis, the world economy and not just Canada or Ontario, would be better off. If Mr. Piche could spend his time working his business instead of talking with WSIB or if a company could use its profits to pay its employees more or to invest in new machinery, would that not be better then spending it on consultants and lawyers to deal with WSIB rates?
- That the Government of Ontario direct the WSIB to end its current 156 rate system and set up one flat rate for all Ontario businesses.
We understand that some companies that are paying the lowest rates may complain about an increase in their rates to cover employees who work in more dangerous fields then do their employees. To these businesses we would say the system is already unfair as many employers such as banks are paying nothing at all to WSIB. When many of these companies were excluded from WSIB coverage, there was no knowledge of Carpel Tunnel or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or many other workplace hazards. The real losers under this exclusion are those productive workers who find themselves unable to work because of a workplace injury and are left with little support and few resources to get their bodies back to productivity. Banks have and will no question argue again that they should not have to pay any rate and certainly not a rate that would cover people working in the most dangerous jobs. However, banks joined by many of the anti-tax champions like the Canadian Tax Federation and Frasier Institute have consistently argued that taxes are passed on to the consumer. If this is true, and judging by the amount of paper used to complete my mortgage agreement, the banks are likely already paying for the high WSIB rates charged to paper manufacturers and the logging industry. Then the argument becomes should productive bank employees who become injured have the tools and support they need made available to them as they are made available to millworkers and autoworkers? We have heard the argument that not all companies can be coved by WSIB for any number of reasons and we concede that this is true. However, Ontario currently has one of the lowest percentage of employees covered by WSIB.
According to the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, Ontario covers 71% of it’s employers. Seven other provinces are covering over 90% of their workers, including our nearest neighbour Quebec. The Ontario Government has the ability to spread out the pain of paying for Workers Compensation while returning productive wage earners, on permanent basis, back into the economy.
- 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.
Workers Compensation programs across Canada have developed Experience Rating Programs. The Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board program is no different. The WSIB has committed to making changes to their Experience Rating Program, due to the large number of complaints they are receiving from both employer and employee groups. It would seem, based on the length of time it is taking the WSIB, that they are having problems implementing changes. We find nothing surprising in this since they are intending to role this into their (156 different) rate system. Of greater concern to our members, as Injured Workers, is that Experience Rating comes nowhere near meeting its mandate to force employers to make their workplaces safer. It is downright scary that Experience Rating Systems, dependent on claims to determine good and bad employers, leads to the suppression of claims. In fact, Harry Arthurs in his 2010 WSIB Funded Report, stated that “WSIB has been warned – not only by workers but by consultants and researchers – that abuses are likely occurring.” True, this can be devastating to Injured Workers and their families, but how does it effect growth of the economy? It does in two significant ways. The first is the work potential of the injured worker who has his claim suppressed. These workers are forced to come in to work or do other activities that will increase the damage to their health. Often a short time outside of the workplace or getting an adjustment in work activities or the proper treatment can heal somebody and not receiving that compensation can result in a long term absence from productivity. There may be some employers who feel they benefit from this kind of program but we would argue that the money spent on consultants and lawyers to create no product and provide no service to the economy is of no benefit.
- We Recommend WSIB end its use of Experience Rating Programs in any form and suggest that they work with the Ministry of Labour and their workplace inspectors to find effective ways of making workplaces safe.
Of great concern to us is the WSIB’s refusal to seriously review the long term effects of their programs on the lives of injured workers and their families. WSIB plays a significant role in repairing the real cogs, the workers, that keep our economy growing. We will refrain from a long lecture on the social effects of a failed compensation system on Injured Workers and their families, but surely a Finance Minister can see the value in knowing if somebody has returned to work for a few months or for years. Surely a Finance Minister can see the value in knowing what percentage of injured workers either struggle or are unable to reach their pre-injury production level. The Ontario Network of Injured Workers has been vigorously pushing for WSIB to collect, review and share this information. To date, we believe no such information has been collected. As Finance Minister, you need to develop a long term plan. This is shared by Injured Workers who have to plan for the rest of their lives and we believe it is shared by most business, but is it shared by WSIB? Based on the reviews they do of people that pass through their doors, we don’t believe they do.
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.