Safety Board Changes Hurting Injured Workers

[click photo to view more photos from the event]

Waterloo, April 28, 2014 - Waterloo Regional Labour Council President Marc Xuereb used his speech at the Day of Mourning ceremonies in Waterloo to address the changes to the WSIB that are resulting in more and more injured workers being denied their claims and ending up in poverty.

In front of a crowd of almost 200 people, including several local politicians and WSIB Chair Elizabeth Witmer, Xuereb detailed the cuts to the WSIB which have resulted in one in five injured workers living in poverty.

In addition to the good-sized crowd, the event drew very positive media attention. Click on the links below to see coverage in:

Waterloo Chronicle 
570 News 
Waterloo Region Record

Take action! Sign the petitions on these websites to call for better enforcement of the Westray Act and better WSIB coverage, respectively:

A shortened version of Labour Council President Marc Xuereb's speech at the event was published in in The Record the following week. The full text, from The Record's website, is below.

Safety board changes hurting injured workers
by Marc Xuereb

On April 28, communities across Canada commemorated the Day of Mourning for workers injured or killed on the job, or from workplace diseases.

Almost 1,000 workers die from work-related causes every year in this country, despite strong health and safety legislation.

Workplace deaths get a lot of attention, and so they should. But almost as shameful is the way decades of cuts to Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board have forced thousands of workers injured on the job into poverty. This is a much less publicized story, yet no less outrageous.

Twenty years ago, the Mike Harris government — with then Waterloo North MPP Elizabeth Witmer as labour minister — cut the premiums employers had to pay into the safety and insurance board, starting a process of starving the system of benefits available to pay out to injured workers.

In 1996, employers paid $3.20 into the board for every $100 of payroll. Today, it's $2.26. Given this, it's no mystery why the board has an "unfunded liability" — future projected benefit payments it currently has inadequate revenues to fund.

Ever since, this unfunded liability has been used as an excuse to cut more and more out of the funds paid to people who can no longer work because of injuries suffered on the job.

One of the first things Witmer and Harris did to reduce the safety board's expenses was to reduce cost-of-living increases from benefits paid to injured workers. Since 1995, injured workers have only received benefit increases when inflation was higher than two per cent. So for workers injured before 2000, their benefit cheques have been reduced by 20 per cent in real dollars.

Still, deindexing hasn't been enough to make up for the premium cuts made 20 years ago, so the safety board has found other ways to reduce its expenses.

In 2010, the board released a report it had commissioned KPMG to do for them, which recommended a series of policy changes to reduce the benefits paid for a number of different types of injuries. Resistance to the policies, primarily from organized labour and injured workers' groups, have prevented the policies from being passed — so far.

In practice however, the board seems to have implemented the KPMG recommendations without making them policy. According to the safety board's own numbers, the number of denied claims has increased by 50 per cent since the release of the KPMG report, and the average benefit amount has decreased by 30 per cent.

Last December, the board proposed new policy changes that attempt to legitimize and legalize its cuts. The proposals make it much easier for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to deny claims on the basis of pre-existing conditions and the elimination of the "thin skull principle."

The most common pre-existing condition being used to deny claims is "degenerative disc disease," which is a sick joke because almost everyone over 40 has it, yet back injury claims are being denied if evidence of the "disease" is found to pre-exist the incident.

The "thin skull principle," part of common law, recognizes that two people could have the same head injury, but while one might have no lasting impairments, the other could have catastrophic injuries and should therefore receive benefits based on the injury they suffered, and for as long as the disability lasts.

The safety board is proposing to treat the "thin skulled" worker the same as the "thick skulled" worker, thus reducing benefits and the time they have to pay out.

What's happening at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board today is an outrage.

The board and the Liberal and Conservative governments it has answered to for the past 20 years have given in too easily to their business friends' demands to lower their costs. Now employers get to save money by paying lower safety board premiums and not investing in safer workplaces.

The result is, injured workers end up living in poverty because their employers allowed unsafe conditions to exist. This is a gross injustice.

Marc Xuereb is president of the Waterloo Regional Labour Council.

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  • Benni Stegner
    commented 2014-05-10 18:23:22 -0400
    It is very Disgusting that our governments want to turn back the time clock and erode the rights that we have fought for years, the ones that will lose are our present and future familys and where the Rich rulers of our country will use us as peasent servants that cant afford medicine or proper food, it is time to Push Back !