By Aidan Macdonald and Heidi MacFarland
For years now, injured workers and frontline advocates have been sounding the alarm that Ontario’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) has been “getting its financial house in order” through austerity and cost-cutting measures. Whether it be from slashing compensation for lost wages, denying healthcare treatment and medication, or refusing to recognize mental health injuries, the cuts have come squarely on the backs of injured workers.
But resilient and strong in the face of injustice, injured workers across the province are rising up. The Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups (ONIWG) – an umbrella organization of injured worker groups throughout Ontario – is launching a province-wide campaign called Workers’ Comp is a Right, to call for a system that treats them with dignity and respect, and that provides them with the compensation to which they are legitimately entitled.
This province-wide campaign has three concrete demands:
1) No cuts based on phantom jobs.
2) Listen to injured workers’ treating healthcare professionals.
3) Stop cutting benefits based on “pre-existing conditions”.
These demands address some of the WSIB’s primary methods of cutting benefits and sending injured workers into poverty.
A broken workers’ compensation system
In implementing its austerity agenda, the WSIB has adopted the mindset of a private insurance provider. Just as insurance companies look to deny and cut claims wherever they can, the WSIB has become rigid, aggressive, and adversarial in trying to find ways to deny or terminate injured workers’ claims.
From 2009 to 2015, the WSIB cut total benefits to injured workers by nearly $1.16 billion, a 33% reduction over the six-year period.
For injured workers, the WSIB’s austerity agenda means thousands of people every year are forced into poverty. A comprehensive study published in 2015 found that 46% of injured workers with a permanent disability from their work injury were at or near the poverty line, with 9% living in deep poverty. 38% of them had been unable to return to employment since they were injured, and yet the WSIB cut their benefits.
In addition to elevated poverty levels, a disproportionately high rate of injured workers also suffer from an array of mental health struggles following their injuries. A 2012 study found that nearly 50% of injured workers experienced symptoms of depression, while 37% had symptoms of anxiety. In many cases, dealing with the WSIB itself causes these mental health issues to develop. Many ONIWG members report that they are unable to even open mail or answer phone calls from the WSIB because of the intense anxiety and panic-like symptoms that are provoked by any interactions with the system.
Downloading costs onto public systems
Another important consequence of the WSIB’s cuts is that the costs of work injuries are being offloaded onto public systems. A common misconception is that the workers’ compensation is funded by taxpayers. In fact, this is not true; the system is funded entirely by employer premiums and the WSIB’s own investments.
Every year, however, thousands of injured workers are forced onto publicly funded systems like Ontario Works (OW), the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), and CPP-Disability, when they are cut off of WSIB benefits. Similarly, when the WSIB refuses to pay for healthcare treatment for injured workers, those costs are shifted onto OHIP.
The reality is that work injuries are becoming a public burden precisely because the WSIB is trying to find ways to skirt its responsibilities.
Shamefully, those with the most severe and complex injuries, including mental health injuries, are the ones who bear the brunt of the WSIB’s cost-cutting measures. The reason is simple: these injuries are the most expensive to deal with. Instead of being seen as human beings with a legal right to compensation and care workers who need the most support are seen as costs and liabilities, and are denied help.
Workers’ Comp is a Right campaign demands
With the system having strayed so far from its mandate to support injured workers, ONIWG is launching its province-wide campaign to call for justice through three demands.
The first demand — no cuts based on phantom jobs — challenges the WSIB’s practice of “deeming.” In essence, deeming (also called “determining”) is when the WSIB pretends an injured worker has a job that they do not in fact have in reality. It then pretends that the worker is earning a salary from the non-existent job, and uses the invented salary as a justification to cut their benefits. Injured workers are frequently deemed to have phantom jobs even when they are medically unable to work, or unable to actually obtain employment. If a worker is unemployed, the WSIB will still pretend they are working and earning money, and cut their benefits accordingly.
The second demand — listen to injured workers’ treating healthcare professionals — relates to the systemic problem of the WSIB ignoring medical evidence from injured workers’ treating doctors and health providers. Injured workers are frequently forced back to work before their healthcare professionals say it is safe to do so, and denied treatment or medication prescribed by their doctors. This puts workers at risk of re-injury, prolongs their recovery, and is another means of cutting benefits.
The third demand — stop cutting benefits based on “pre-existing conditions” — calls for an end to the WSIB’s practice of blaming ongoing disabilities on “conditions” that it claims existed before the work injury. All too often, the “pre-existing conditions” that the WSIB points to never actually affected the person at all until they were injured at work. In many cases, they were never diagnosed by a doctor before the work injury, and never caused the person any symptoms – and yet the WSIB calls them the “real” source of the injury and terminates the worker’s benefits.
Despite the grim context of the workers’ compensation system in Ontario, ONIWG will not allow injured workers to be discouraged or ignored. People who are injured or made ill on the job have the right to dignity and respect, and to compensation benefits for their work injuries. With this campaign, injured workers from all corners of the province are building their collective power and demanding these rights, in full.
For more information about how to support the Workers’ Comp is a Right campaign visit their website.
I’m not one to rant but you have to hear this.
I literally just got a call from wsib saying at the end of this week my benefits will be slashed more than 60% due to me not finding a medically suitable job even though I’ve been on wsib benefits for 7 years,yes 7 years.
What kind of government does this to someone who has payed taxes for 35 years. They(wsib) is literally putting injured workers into poverty. I as well as hundreds or even thousands of injured should take this as a clear message that our government just DONT give a SHIT.
We are left trying to pick up the pieces and eventually losing everything we have worked so hard to have.
While I know the government is involved, but more so on an overseeing level. They are not as much involved in the day to day decisions as employers are. All the workers at the WSIB and the WSIAT are workers who worked for employers, or vice versa your employer rep use to work for the WSIB or the WSIAT. This is why there is such a tight bond with employers and WSIB. Employers do this for one reason only – MONEY!
The composition of both the WSIB and the WSIAT should be at 50% injured workers. That said this change can be made by government but they choose not to. I know voting conservative won’t help, that is why we are here (remember Harris common sense revolution).
The most effective thing you can do is become part of this campaign and fight for all injured workers rights!
I would definitely say that you should appeal any decisions and contact OWA and/or IAVGO for assistance.
While many courts across Canada have conceded the point that employers cannot be sued in place of the entitlement to speedy benefits, by injured workers. Some injured workers, such as myself, are taking action in the courts against these corrupt practices of the WSIB. I heard one great lawyer say that he was told by the courts that any issues with the WSIB should be dealt with at the legislature. When he stated this, I was rather mystified. Most people know that our political regime is composed of three parts. The legislature, who creates and empowers the laws; the executive who puts the laws into action; and the judiciary who ensures the laws are followed, but also the Constitution. Whenever a person finds the government acting wrongly they seek redress through the courts. This practice has been in place for well over three hundred years. To confirm this, I quote Sir William Blackstone, who was a judge in the 1700’s of England and said this about individual rights: “It is a settled an invariable principle in the laws of England, that every right when withheld must have a remedy, and every injury its proper redress”. To the layperson the courts are like the police – so to speak. To respond to the courts comment of taking it up with the legislature, I would reply that a robbery victim is not asked by the police to go back to the robber and ask for their money back?
While there is fighting in the courts, with three individual actions, and two class actions, that I know of. We still need to fight in the legislature. This is so when I go to the court, as others will too, we can say that, hey look we tried, but they don’t want to listen. Instead they prefer to deprive of us our rights!
Some may argue that the workers compensation system is not perfect, but I reply that it fails Blackstone principle of law and fails us all. For if one injured worker is denied, then the system fails!
To prove this, I argue that approximately every month on average 1,400 injured workers are forced onto Ontario Works or ODSP because of WSIB failures. This doesn’t include the many other social programs that injured workers are forced to use because of Deeming, Preexisting Conditions and Paper Doctors. When injured workers are denied workers compensation, injured workers pay, but so do taxpayers!
We must therefore fight in the legislature with campaigning and protesting and fight in the courts with legal challenges only with both we will all win! #WorkersCompIsARight!
Sherry Harrison says
I would like to thank everyone for the support given to us, whether it be monetary, emotional, or food donations. Thanks to you, we were able to pay our February rent and eat some wholesome food! We are overwhelmed by all the support given to us while we go through this difficult time, and are truly appreciative for everything.
An update on Matthew – he went to a hand specialist (after the story aired, he got a call saying they (WSIB) had an appointment for him…after waiting for 3 years for one and being denied time after time) He needs another operation, to repair the damage done from the first unnecessary operation. The specialists do not want him to have the operation until his mental condition gets better, they estimated another 6 month wait. To date, no money has come in from WSIB, and no decision has been made from WSIB. He has also gone to see a psychiatrist, who gave him the wrong dosage on his pills (it said 32 pills a day, which would have put him in a coma!) Thank goodness the pharmacist saw it right away and questioned it!!
Our hearts go out to everyone who is battling WSIB, as we are being made aware of so many other cases like ours.
Sherry and Matthew Harrison
March 8, 2016
Update: March 8, 2018. Still fighting WSIB, no money has come in, my son was forced to go on Ontario Works and they would not pay him much as he lives with me. I had to declare bankruptcy so this has affected me as well. He is now going on ODSP, (not out of choice). And the situation is worse, I was in a car accident, now only getting 1/2 my pay so we are back to square one, can’t pay our rent, there is no nutritional food in the house, hydro is behind, it’s a vicious circle with no end in sight. My son suffers mental problems because of this, and I no longer have anything to look forward to, all we have left is abject poverty and possibly homelessness. All because my son was injured and nobody wants to take responisibility!!