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February 26, 2014 - Vol. 3 No. 16

Outcome of Niagara Falls By-Election

Step Up the Fight for Rights and Against Austerity! Develop the Independent Politics of the Working Class!

Outcome of Niagara Falls By-Election
Step Up the Fight for Rights and Against Austerity! Develop the Independent Politics of the Working Class!
Oppose Liberals' Vicious Assault on Public Servants
Hudak's Forced Retreat on Slave Labour Laws

Justice for injured Workers
Oppose Government's Latest Attack on Workers' Right to Just Compensation
- Christine Nugent

Injured Workers Resist Latest Attacks on Their Benefits

Outcome of Niagara Falls By-Election

Step Up the Fight for Rights and Against Austerity! Develop the Independent Politics of the Working Class!

Spirited picket outside of Liberal Provincial Council meeting in Hamilton opposes both Liberal and PC
versions of austerity, September 28, 2013.

The working people have delivered a new blow to the austerity agenda in Ontario by defeating the Liberals and PCs in Niagara Falls. They have shown that they reject the blackmail of the party system that defines the options for the electorate, rather than bringing forward their concerns.

During the by-election, the Liberals tried to influence the electorate through blackmail and bribes of all kinds including various promises to unions and others at the last minute; the PCs tried character assassination and fearmongering about a union takeover; while the NDP tried to encourage the workers to become a vote bank for them as some had done for the Liberals in the past. None of this worked to convince the working people to give up their own fight for rights.

Now both the Liberals and PCs are resetting in an attempt to get the working people to give up their independent organizing for their rights and against austerity. The PCs are trying to present themselves as a leopard that can change its spots. Meanwhile the Liberals have unleashed a new round of attacks on public sector workers to appease the ruling circles who demand more funds be removed from social programs to pay the rich. Their loss in Niagara Falls has not made them reconsider their fidelity to austerity and their fraud of being more consultative and fair has been completely exposed for all to see.

The response of the Liberals and PCs to their losses in Niagara Falls shows that the workers' opposition to austerity continues to make the Liberals and PCs flounder in their attempts to emerge as champions for austerity. It is important now to step up the tempo of actions against the anti-worker austerity agenda no matter who puts it foward. The upcoming Liberal Annual General Meeting being held in Toronto March 21-23 will be an important opportunity. Teachers and education workers, injured workers, public servants and industrial workers under assault from the monopolies which governments refuse to stop are all favoured by fighting for their rights and the rights of all. Let's make the Liberal AGM a new expression of the determination of the working people to reverse the austerity agenda and etablish a new direction for Ontario!

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Oppose Liberals' Vicious Assault on Public Servants

Like the Harper Conseratives, the Liberals and PCs are both targeting for attack the public sector workers who deliver the services Ontarians rely on. This time it is the public servants.

The government's latest attack is on post-retirement benefits of provincial civil servants. Around 84,000 members of the Ontario Public Service (OPS) as well as OPP officers, LCBO employees and others are said to be affected. The government announced on February 18, the same day the Legislature resumed, that retiree benefits would move to "a cost-sharing model" for those who retire on or after January 1, 2017. This was also the same day that the government commenced bargaining with the Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario (AMAPCEO). Whereas the government as the employer currently pays 100 per cent of the premiums, the announcement means those retiring on or after that date will be forced to pay 50 per cent of the premiums for a package of health benefits and life insurance. The change also doubles the years of service required to be part of the retiree benefit plan from 10 to 20 years and restricts membership in it to those who retire at the earliest possible date they are eligible to receive an unreduced pension.

In a February 20 report on its website, AMAPCEO detailed what it called an "offensive long list of concessions" presented by the government on the first day of bargaining. In reference to the government announcement about retiree benefits, AMAPCEO stated that it "view[ed] this unilateral action by the Employer, announced deliberately at the opening of bargaining, as a transparent attempt to intimidate our members. The change itself is a rejection of longstanding commitments the Employer has made to our members and future retirees." The Association said it is examining its legal options in respect of the announcement.

The Ontario Public Service Employees' Union (OPSEU) which represents many members of the OPS said in a statement that the average OPSEU retiree earns about $27,000 a year before deductions and that an extra health premium of $1,500 per year for family coverage or $800 for an individual would equal a 5.5 per cent cut in income. Those who can't afford to pay the $1,500 and drop out of the benefit plan altogether will end up taking a loss in benefits worth $3,000.

The extent of the government's dictate is such that it did not even notify OPSEU before announcing the cuts to these benefits, revealing once again the empty notion of Wynne's self-proclaimed "consultative" approach and the reality of further dictate. The rationale given by the government that it will bring OPS retiree benefits in line with other Canadian jurisdictions, the private sector and other public sector organizations also once again reveals the fraud of Wynne's "fair" approach which tries to justify introducing retrogression into the lives of all working people as the norm.

A letter to members posted on OPSEU Region 2 website had this to say about the government's "fair" approach to labour relations: "While some in the public may buy into the distorted logic that since others don't have this type of post-retirement benefit, neither should the OPS and LBED [Liqour Board Employees Division]. Following that train of thought, we would all end up making minimum wage, have no pensions, no benefits, etc. We as a Union are clear, it is never a race to the bottom. What we have, we want for everyone. [...] I have heard many say in relation to a possible general election, anyone but Hudak. I think it is time we acknowledge that the Liberals are just as dangerous to us as Hudak."

Its arbitrary handling of public servants' retiree benefits is an indication of the approach the Liberal government will take with other public sector workers who will head into negotiations this year such as teachers and education workers, health care workers and community college faculty and staff. It means being ready to fight to defend their rights.

Ontario Political Forum denounces this unacceptable assault on retiring members of the public service that echoes the Harper government's assault on retirees in the federal public service. It should put everyone on notice once and for all that the Liberals, like the PCs, can see no alternative other than to attack workers in order to pay the rich and must be defeated.

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Hudak's Forced Retreat on Slave Labour Laws

Monthly picket against austerity agenda at Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak's constituency office in Beamsville, July 2013.

Speaking to the Toronto Board of Trade on February 21, following the defeat of the Liberals and PCs in the Niagara Falls by-election , PC leader Tim Hudak announced that if elected he would not proceed with his right-to-be-slave-labour legislation known as "right-to-work" laws. Trying to hide his humiliation, he claimed that such a direction would not be "effective." "After all, only 15 per cent of private sector workers in Ontario are unionized today. Most of them aren't getting ahead, but neither are the 85 per cent that are non-union," he said.

"This 'right to work' issue just doesn't have the scope or the power to fix the issues that are threatening 100 per cent of the manufacturing jobs in Ontario. So if we're elected, we're not going to do it -- we're not going to change the so-called 'Rand Formula.' Our agenda is a lot bigger, and a lot more ambitious, than that," he added. He then re-iterated his pledge to attack workers in new ways by using a majority, if he wins it, to legislate public sector wages and do away with arrangements for skilled trades that defend public safety.

Some feel Hudak is still going to bring "right to work" forward if his party becomes the government and that this should be the main concern of the workers. Others believe he has other things up his sleeve that are just as bad. All of this is true. But for the working people, the main conclusion they should draw is that by taking their independent initiatives and not submitting to the blackmail that they should merely respond to what they perceive to be the greatest evil, they can stay the hand of the ruling circles and eventually reverse the entire austerity direction.

Like the Liberals with Bill 115, the PCs were forced to back down by the resistance of the working people during and between by-elections. The ruling circles were behind the PCs' push for "right to work" laws up until the point the PCs could not fulfill what the polling firms tried to make happen in the by-elections, starting with Kitchener-Waterloo. It was this resistance which allowed all those opposed to slave labour laws to join in and take a stand for their rights that blocked the PCs.

Working people, by putting forward their own independent politics and opposing neo-liberal assumptions which seek to deprive them of their rights, have forced the PCs to back down while the Liberals have not been able to recover. This has created a whole new equation in which the ruling circles have been unable to create a champion that can deliver their fraudulent austerity agenda. Instead, the working people have gained valuable experience which has shown that by taking the initiative and firmly defending their rights, they can make headway.

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Justice for injured Workers

Oppose Government's Latest Attack on
Workers' Right to Just Compensation

Workers in Ontario and their organizations should inform themselves about the new draft benefits policies proposed by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) that mark a severe shift in how benefits for work-related injuries would be determined. Injured workers and their organizations are responding to the government's Benefits Policy Renewal and Evaluation Initiative with the contempt it deserves and are saying No! to the proposed policies.

The proposed benefits relate to several situations in which injured workers can be assessed and denied benefits. For example, one benefits policy proposal would reduce compensation based on pre-conditions. The WSIB will have the power to to cut off benefits to workers injured on the job because they are assessed to have a condition which may show up later in life due to aging. This goes against the principle of the compensation system that workers injured on the job must be compensated for the injury regardless of any other conditions they have or may develop.

There will be no recourse for WSIB benefit policy decisions. Under the Harris government, Bill 99 established that if the WSIB establishes a policy, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT) rulings must conform to that policy. The WSIAT has been part of the decision-making on appeals, using medical evidence and developing the jurisprudence that is used to establish injured workers' claims. This Benefits Policy Renewal, if implemented, is how the government will usurp power from the WSIAT and make legal that which was illegal.

The government attempted to push its plans through denying the opportunity for injured workers and their organizations to have a say. The Ontario Federation of Labour and various injured workers groups and allies demanded hearings, an extension on the February 28 deadline for submissions and that the government live up to the agreed-upon funding for injured worker groups to prepare for consultations.

Just following the latest by-elections, which showed that the workers in Ontario are taking up opposing the austerity agenda of the Liberals and Conservatives, the government reversed its decision to suppress consultations and extended the time for consultations until the end of April. They also provided the funds for the injured workers' groups to prepare their views, as has been customary in the past.

The experience of consultations organized by the government is that they seek to imbue the workers with feelings of humiliation and impotence that they can do noting about the attacks against them. Cynically using a democratic form called consultations, in fact they proceed to implement their austerity measures and the popular demands of the people are ignored. If these benefits policies go through, decisions will be made with the government escaping oversight by any other bodies like the Appeals Tribunal. The cost-saving measures of the WSIB are part of the plans to get rid of a phony unfunded liability outlined by the Auditor General who has declared that the government must retire this "debt." The government is taking billions out of the WSIB funds on a false wind-up basis. On whose backs is this taking place?

In October 2013 Elizabeth Witmer, Chair of the WSIB, reported the following on the WSIB unfunded liability to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in response to the Auditor General's report :

"As you know, the board's costs were totally out of control, and action was desperately needed to ensure the financial sustainability of the board to ensure that it could protect the 4.2 million workers and the 255,000 employers it serves from the consequences of workplace injuries and illnesses, while delivering services to the quarter of a million people who are receiving benefits and support from the board at any given time.

"I want to look first at the financial transformation of the board as it pertains to our unfunded liability. As you know, that was the biggest threat to our system, and aggressive action, of course, has been taken by the government and by the board. You've heard from the deputy that legislation was passed that requires us to reach 60 per cent funding by 2017, 80 per cent by 2022 and full funding by 2027.

"I'm very pleased to say that we are currently approaching 60 per cent and we are on track to meeting that requirement in 2017. However, we can never forget that our system is at a very delicate stage. I want to emphasize the fact that the next funding requirement of 80 per cent by 2022 will be much more challenging to achieve, so it is absolutely vital that we maintain our course."

Up until now the WSIB has achieved its 60 per cent target on the backs of injured workers. It has frozen employer premiums for 2014. It has developed an aggressive return-to-work regime and denied injured workers' claims which resulted in a tsunami of appeals in 2012 lined up at the Appeals Tribunal.

Witmer's "challenge" to achieve WSIB's target of retiring the debt, and WSIB president and CEO David Marshall's admission that achieving the 60 per cent funding to date was the easy part, shows the determination of this government to escalate the attacks on injured workers and all workers who may face possible injury at the workplace. This situation requires that the people take up empowering themselves to organize to defend their rights to just compensation and to defeat any government that stands in the way of justice for injured workers.

(With files from www.ontla.on.ca, injuredworkersonline.org)

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Injured Workers Resist Latest Attacks
on Their Benefits

The Workers' Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) launch of the Benefits Policy Renewal and Evaluation Initiative is being met with opposition by injured workers, their organizations and allies across the province. Meetings are being held in communities across Ontario to review the latest government attack on the benefits of injured workers. The WSIB, under the Wynne government's watch, continues on a path of destroying the compensation system with the goal of removing a $16 billion "unfunded liability," a phony accounting practice applied to workers' compensation. This is part of the government's plan to eliminate the debt and deficit on the backs of injured workers as part of their austerity agenda. All workers in Ontario have a stake in saying NO! to the WSIB scheme to cut more benefits from injured workers and to demand justice for injured workers and a guarantee of compensation that is rightfully theirs.

The key benefit policies are: Policy 11-01-15, Aggravation Basis; Policy 15-03-01, Recurrences; Policy 18-05-09, NEL Redeterminations; Policy 11-01-05, Determining Permanent Impairment; and the new Policy 11-01-xx, Pre-existing Conditions.

Several organizations have responded to the government's WSIB benefits review with the contempt that it deserves. The Bright Lights Injured Workers' Group (BLIWG) in Toronto in their letter to Elizabeth Witmer, Chair of the WSIB, explains how injured workers will be affected:

"If they are implemented, the draft policies will solidify a major shift in the WSIB's approach to decision-making, as injured workers' disabilities will systematically be blamed on 'pre-existing conditions' rather than the workplace injury. These 'conditions' may have been asymptomatic and undiagnosed prior to the work accident and in many cases they are an entirely normal part of the aging process. Rather than looking at how the workplace injury affected the worker's health, the Board will now be looking for these 'pre-existing conditions' as a reason to deny ongoing benefits."

Presently a worker injured in the course of employment is compensated for as long as the injury lasts and must not be disqualified due to aging or some previous condition that a worker suddenly endures. Over the past thirty years the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal, which was formed to act as an independent body to adjudicate appeals of workers and employers who were dissatisfied with the final decisions of the WSIB, has played a role in legal and policy development. The governments' Benefits Policy Renewal and Evaluation Initiative is a step towards legitimizing the Board's decision-making powers on compensation, thereby negating past experience of the tribunal.

Michelle Sweeney, president of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups (ONIWG), in their submission explains one principle used which determines workers' right to compensation:

"The Workmen's Compensation Act of 1914 clearly follows Sir Meredith's principles including the incorporation of the 'thin skull' principle of common law into the Act. It clearly follows Sir Meredith's principles to protect workers against wage loss due to workplace injury or disease for as long as the disability lasts. Employers pay premiums through compulsory collective liability to ensure workers are covered against wage loss. Workers collectively have given up their right to sue their employer due to a work place injury. Under the Benefit Policy Review the WSIB proposes policy changes which effectively remove the 'thin skull principle' from the WSIB policy. Therefore, injured workers will risk finding themselves without protection against workplace injuries while their collective right to sue their employer is tied up neatly. This means the pending policy changes discriminate against workers' rights to fair and just wage loss and treatment. At the same time their employers remain protected by the WSI Act against lawsuits."

Injured workers and their organizations are demanding that the government stop the direction it is taking the compensation system. They say that more and more injured workers are being denied benefits and these policy changes will continue to put injured workers onto social programs like Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program and the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, thereby exempting the WSIB and employers from their societal responsibility.

"Injured workers should not be falling under the ideologies of temporary social welfare. Sir Meredith's principles were not taken from the Charity Organization Society (COS) or its counterpart settlement house movement dating back to 1869. The COS and its' counterpart resulted from the Elizabethan Poor Laws of deserving and undeserving poor," says ONIWG. "The policies you are proposing are contrary to the law and the practice of the board for 100 years. They will cause poverty and uncertainty .... Like the Ontario Federation of Labour we feel that this whole process should be abandoned."

The results of the latest by-elections in several riding in Ontario have shown the defeat of the Liberals and Conservatives and their anti-social, anti-worker agenda. Injured workers have participated in the various by-elections, starting with Kitchener-Waterloo following the appointment of the riding's Conservative MPP, Elizabeth Witmer to the WSIB by the McGuinty government. Witmer began the attack on injured workers' benefits back in the days of the Harris government. Now under the Wynne government, the Benefits Policy Review sets the WSIB on the path of finishing what was started by the Conservatives. During by-elections and during the upcoming general election, injured workers have something to say. They are determined to defeat those who stand in the way of their rights for a public, responsible compensation system based on collective liability and comprehensive coverage.

(With files from injuredworkersonline.org, www.wsiat.on.ca)

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