Concerns: Peterborough General Electric Retirees Propose Reforms to Workers’ Comp —

Former GE workers address Injured Workers’ Day Rally in Toronto, June 1, 2018.

The following “Manifesto for a Reformed, Just, and Democratic Workers’ Compensation System” was circulated at the June 1 Ontario Injured Workers’ Day Rally in Toronto by the GE Retirees Occupational Health Advisory Committee, Unifor Local 524.

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WORKERS’ COMPENSATION IN CRISIS: Ontario’s worker compensation system is in crisis when it comes to fair and just compensation for injured workers. Not a day goes by without a news story describing serious injustices carried out by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

Shockingly, these are just a small fragment of what workers and their representatives have been reporting about the Board’s questionable practices, designed to deny claims or cut benefits.

Historically, the Board’s current practices represent a major deviation from the founding principles set out by Chief Justice William Meredith in 1914. These founding principles were set to create a “no-fault workers’ compensation” system, to assist workers injured or made sick from work.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? A great deal! Workers’ compensation has evolved into a system that largely serves the interests of the employers. This is reflected in the change of name from “The Workers’ Compensation Board” to a “Workplace Safety and Insurance Board” during the Mike Harris regime. This is confirmed in a study by the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario (IAVGO) that found a large percentage of denied claims reviewed by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT) were based on little or no evidence. This was a general policy of “proactive denial” formulated to reduce the Board’s unfunded liability between 2009 and 2015 by denying claims. This was accompanied by another corrupt practice of forcing the Board’s “paper” doctors to give the opinion the Board desired. The harassment and firing of Dr. Brenda Steinnagel, for refusing to change her medical report to suit the Board’s wishes to deny a worker’s claim, is a case in point.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF AUSTERITY: During that period of proactive denial, rebates to employers increased by over 100% and denied claims doubled. Benefits to workers were cut by 33 percent. This is not a mere coincidence!

With a mindset of a private insurance provider, the WSIB became exceptionally rigid, aggressive, and adversarial in finding ways to deny or terminate workers’ claims.

ABUSING THE VULNERABLE: Taking abuse another step further with a practice called “deeming”, the board currently determines if a worker is fit to work, often without medical evidence that the worker is able to work, or contrary to his/her doctor’s opinion. Often there is no job to return to at the pay level of the worker’s previous job. This usually results in the Board cutting benefits. In many cases this leads to poverty, frequent re-injury, and psychological distress. A joint study from Trent and MacMaster Universities found that 46% of permanently injured workers were living below the poverty line.

Abuse doesn’t stop there. Indeed, the WSIAT found that the Board had wrongly upheld 50% of employer’s abusive actions against workers.

FAILING TO ADDRESS OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE: The true extent of occupational disease remains largely unaddressed. Only a small fraction of work-related disease claims are allowed. Consequently, this leads to a distorted assessment for regulatory and prevention purposes, and shifts the burden of work-related disease onto our public health care system, families of victims, and society in general.

Over the years questions have been raised by numerous medical and legal scholars who have identified numerous systemic obstacles to disease recognition that include: an onerous burden of proof requiring scientific certainty rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada; legalized thresholds rather than exposure guidelines; dismissal of doctors’ assessments of work-relatedness, or readiness for a safe return to work; over-emphasis placed on the worker’s medical history , or what the Board terms a “pre-existing condition” rather than hazardous workplace exposures; narrow focus on one chemical and one disease, and an unwillingness to address mixed exposures and disease clusters claiming that this is beyond the Board’s legal mandate.

These cluster cases are typically not investigated appropriately, and the board refuses to accept this as evidence of work-relatedness.

A PUBLIC INQUIRY DEMANDED: The exposure of these questionable practices has led to growing demand for a full scale public inquiry into the operation of the WISB with a view to placing the WSIB under democratic control. It is no longer tolerable to have a worker compensation system based on the practices and policies of a “private” insurance company, operating as a power unto itself with little public oversight. Workers demand and deserve a workers’ compensation system that addresses the needs of those who are injured and made sick from work. Time’s run out! It’s time to act!

WHAT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED:

– The systemic obstacles to occupational disease recognition including: onerous burden of proof , ignoring doctor’s assessments, over-emphasis on medical history, rigid thresholds, ignoring exposure conditions, paucity of occupational health research.
– Off-loading of the social and economic cost of injury and disease onto our public health care system, families and society in general.
– Abolish the unjust and harmful system of “Deeming”.
– Emphasis on “pre-existing conditions” to deny claims.
– The use of “paper doctors” employed by the board to deny claims without a medical exam.
– Forced return to work.
– Inordinately long wait times for adjudications.
– The exclusion of migrant workers from the worker compensation system.
– Address the abuses of the experience rating system.
– Abolish time limits for filing claims and appeals.
– Restore the right to oral hearings.
– Restore the name of the Workers Compensation Act and the Board.

CONTACT: Sue James, Advisory Committee, Chair: suejames @cogeco.ca