In the News June 2
Ontario Injured Workers Day 2022
Lively Online Rally and Town Hall Celebrate Collective Fight for Rights
People from Canada, the United States and Australia joined the Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups (ONIWG) for an online rally and town hall on June 1 to mark the 39th Ontario Injured Workers’ Day. The program began with a slide presentation of the posters and flyers from past Injured Workers’ Days going back to 1984. The calls and slogans recalled for participants the many fights waged over the years, many ongoing today.
This was followed by a video of this year’s proclamation of June 1 as Injured Worker’s Day in Thunder Bay and the raising of the ONIWG flag by the Acting Mayor, Rebecca Johnson. The proclamation and flag raising has been an annual event in the city for many years.
In her opening remarks ONIWG President Janet Paterson said that for injured workers June 1 is a day to celebrate what they have accomplished through their collective work over the past year. She spoke of the long battles that injured workers and their families have waged, particularly in conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the strength and optimism with which ONIWG meets the challenges ahead in the fight for justice. In conditions where injured workers do not feel they have control over their lives, just to be present, to be here together is important. She made note that looking at the slide show you could see that injured workers were still making many of the same demands as when Injured Workers’ Day was initiated but the fight and the attacks on their rights has intensified over those years.
Speakers including Patty Coates, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Fred Hahn, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees – Ontario and Myles Sullivan, Director of District 6, United Steelworkers, all expressed their commitment to work side by side with injured workers in the determined battle they have waged for decades against the inhumane campaign of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to deny injured workers their rights. Hahn pointed out that no matter who formed the next Ontario government the work of injured workers and their allies remained to fight for justice for injured workers.
Several speakers reiterated the need to end the practice of deeming whereby WSIB “deems” a permanently injured worker to be employable in a new occupation and reduces their compensation, whether the worker is actually employed or not. Speakers also denounced the decision of the WSIB to give $1.5 billion, what they call a “surplus” which was acquired through cuts to benefits for injured workers and their families, to employers. The demand was made that the entire amount that has been accumulated from the theft of benefits due to injured workers be returned to them in full.
Of significance was the participation of representatives from the Health and Community Services Union (HACSU) in Australia, and from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) in the U.S. Stephanie Houston, speaking from Australia, noted that inspired by the example of ONIWG, their organization has initiated June 1 as Injured Workers’ Day. This year their program, which focused on invisible injuries — long COVID, PTSD, and mental health and addictions — was live-streamed across the country. Peter Dooley of COSH said that there is a need in the U.S. to recognize that the struggle of injured workers is the same struggle as that for safe and healthy workplaces and that it concerns all workers, saying that “there is much we can learn from your experience.”
Andrea Hatala of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) Action Coalition noted that many injured workers whose claims had been denied were receiving $1,169 per month on ODSP, condemning them to a life of poverty and insecurity particularly in the context of the rising cost of living. She noted that what the parties in the legislature were promising was paltry in comparison to what was needed to live with dignity in the province.
Sue James from Peterborough brought greetings to the rally from the Occupational Disease Reform Alliance which stands as one with injured workers’ groups across the province to hold the government to account for its treatment of workers killed, injured and made ill at work and to demand full and just compensation.
Sultana Jahangir from the South Asian Women’s Rights Organization, which works closely with ONIWG, spoke about the research that they are doing to document the impact of workplace injuries within their community where many of the women work in precarious jobs in unsafe conditions and experience a large number of injuries. Their unstable work conditions are also a source of many mental and social strains on themselves and their families. She noted that there has been nothing of substance promised by the main political parties to assist injured workers. She pointed out that whatever the result of the June 2 election the work of injured workers will remain to continue and strengthen their work to see justice for injured workers.
The rally was interspersed with cultural interludes including a skit by the Malingerers satirizing the WSIB; a music video “No Lip Service” by injured worker Heather Cherron Von Atzigen set to photos from past Injured Workers’ Day marches and the rendering of the classic song “Joe Hill” by The Rosies from Peterborough.
Following the rally, Steve Mantis of the Thunder Bay and District Injured Worker’s Support Group chaired a town hall where participants were encouraged to answer the question “What do you want the next government of Ontario to do for injured workers?” Many injured workers intervened in the lively hour-long discussion and ONIWG will compile the answers and present them to the government elected June 2. Among the many concerns raised were the need to end deeming; that the WSIB office in Toronto must be kept open, that the government must enforce workplace safety regulations in order to prevent accidents, that the government should put resources into non-opioid treatments for chronic pain and that people with occupational diseases must be fully compensated. “It is our lives which the government is dealing with,” one speaker noted, “and we must have a say.”
Ontario Political Forum, posted June 2, 2022.