In the News
Advocates for Injured Workers Speak Out on Challenges in 2022
Janet Paterson, President, Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG)
Last year certainly brought its challenges but I think we really rose to them.
We learned not only how to connect but how to expand our connections virtually. Part of that came through our Thunder Bay group. We used to have a weekly meeting in the office, but with COVID our office shut down. So what were we to do? We decided to carry on our meetings on Zoom. We started holding educationals, inviting groups in. We get people from across Canada joining in. We had people participating from California. Isolation is always a big issue for injured workers, and this was the case even before COVID.
One of our main challenges in 2022 is to further involve our 22 groups by helping them to hold virtual meetings. To this effect, ONIWG [Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups] has purchased two licenses. We told the groups we are going to train them on how to use this Zoom technology to hold their meetings. It’s a slow process. We are providing the means, but not everybody even has internet at the moment. That is one our main challenges, to find the way to support our groups so that they can become more involved. That is our focus right now at ONIWG.
Not being able to meet in person has certainly challenged us. Being virtual presents challenges but it certainly opens up the world in a safe way. We have been partnering with a group in Australia for two years now. They saw us online, they contacted us, they now have their June 1 Injured Workers’ Day as we do. We have spoken at their event and they have spoken at ours.
There are about 20,000 workers in Ontario who are permanently injured every year, who suffer a permanent injury recognized by the WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board). Over 50 per cent of these people end up living in poverty. The WSIB style of adjudicating is just deny, deny, deny. There is a huge backlog at the tribunal. There is a huge cost to families. When a worker is injured it affects all aspects of their life. Housing is an issue. Health is an issue. COVID is adding isolation to this problem. Involving everybody, partnering on different activities, and others partnering with us is needed and it is bringing strength to the movement.
A problem that we took up in the last year, and we are going to keep working on in 2022, is the fact that the WSIB is going to return funds to the employers. Bill 27 was passed at the end of the year, and it includes Section 6 that allows the WSIB to return surplus funds to the employers. We did a lot of work against that, involved a lot of people and we keep doing it. The WSIB has a surplus from employer premiums. They have talked about the unfunded liability for many years. They were supposed to get rid of it by 2027 or 2028 but they announced in 2019 that the unfunded liability was gone. The WSIB is applauding itself for the surplus.
At the same time that this was going on, they were decreasing the employers’ premiums every year. The money that was used to provide benefits to injured workers has steadily decreased. We fought long and hard against this. The WSIB is now saying that they are going to give the employers the surplus, that it is their money, that COVID has hit them and we have to give them back their money! What have they done to injured workers in the meantime? We know over the years our benefits keep decreasing. The number of workers who actually receive entitlements is pretty much cut in half. WSIB is not taking care of injured workers. We’ve been working hard at raising awareness about that, the effect of what WSIB is doing, how it’s affecting injured workers as well as their families. If you have a permanent disability and you no longer have benefits, the whole family is affected.
We have been talking to the WSIB and to the government about the effects of what they are doing. And when I say we, I mean not only ONIWG, but ONIWG and its allies. The government and the WSIB know they are hurting injured workers and workers who suffer workplace illnesses. So what does talking to the WSIB or to government do? They’re not changing anything. We’re making a concerted effort to bring awareness to the public. Every worker who goes to work can be injured like me, just like that. You are far better fighting while you are healthy instead of having to live with the consequences of a system that is not working, because it is not working at all. We are hearing from more people. We are seeing other groups raising the issues too, not only injured workers’ groups. It is a workers’ issue, not just an injured workers’ issue.
We are also keeping up the fight against deeming. [Deeming is the WSIB’s practice of pretending that the injured worker has a job, whether it is true or not, and of reducing benefits accordingly by deeming that the worker is receiving a wage from this phantom job – Ed. Note].We worked with Wayne Gates, the MPP from Niagara Falls, on Bill 119 that he brought forward to end deeming. Now that we are heading towards an election again, this bill may die on the Order Paper. ONIWG has also made a presentation to the United Nations on deeming as a violation of our human rights and we are still involved in this process. We are trying to find out how much money the government has saved with deeming. They say that they are not keeping track of it. Of course they are. Every person is individually deemed. For every person there is a dollar amount with the person’s name and the number of hours a week that the person is being deemed. You might be deemed at minimum wage, you might be deemed at $20 an hour.
Our challenge is not only the practices of the WSIB, it’s government support for them. Injured workers are not even part of the equation. The WSIB is only concerned about the employers. That is a huge challenge for us.
We hope that the Conservatives are defeated in the election and one of our challenges this year is definitely going to be to encourage not only injured or sick workers but everybody to get involved in the election because it is really important.
Those are some of the challenges we are facing in the new year. We are all workers. We need to look out for each other and keep on fighting because if you are fighting for yourself you are also fighting for the next person.
(Workers’ Forum, posted February 10, 2022)