Frustrated injured workers take their message to the steps of the WSIB

TORONTO—It has been a tough year for injured workers. The austerity budget that has seen WSIB spending on benefits reduced by millions has continued and now workers are being told that the Board’s savings are being passed on to employers as an immediate $300 million dollar-plus cut to their rates. The Ontario Network of Injured Workers Group (ONIWG) and its supporters rallied at Simcoe Park in Toronto earlier this week, lobbying to have the WSIB start treating every injured worker with respect. While they were not in attendance at the rally, the Manitoulin-North Shore Injured Workers Group (MNSIWG) was in support of the rally and issues raised by ONIWG.

“What ONIWG is concerned about are all issues about things that have been taken away from injured workers,” said Colin Pick, of MNIWG. “More breaks are being given to the employers and everything is  being put back into the pot, when these funds are supposed to go to injured workers.”

“On PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) alone, I don’t know how the WSIB gets away with what it does,” said Mr. Pick. “If an injured worker has been assessed with PTSD—this is a life-long battle. But many workers are treated like they have a normal illness and after getting some care will get back to work in no time. This is not right. We definitely are in support of the concerns raised by ONIWG.”

“This year the WSIB’s shortcomings have received an unprecedented amount of public attention,” said ONIWG president Willy Noiles, in a release. “But as things get worse for Ontario’s workers we’ve seen new levels of cooperation between injured workers, advocates, legal experts, labour unions, doctors and more, all coming together to fight against Ontario’s austerity programs and fight for just compensation.”

This year (2016) has seen a staggering increase in the number of complaints Ontario’s Ombudsman has received about the compensation board, asserts the ONIWG release, including two major systemic complaints about the WSIB’s treatment of injured workers.

The ONIWG release explains that at Monday’s rally, injured workers and their allies demanded that the WSIB immediately change its policy on chronic mental stress. Going on to note that the existing law and policy around chronic mental stress has been declared in violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but no changes have been made.

The ONIWG is calling on WSIB to respect workers treating doctors. In January 2016, injured workers and advocates from across Ontario submitted a complaint to the Ombudsman showing how the WSIB systematically ignores the opinions of treating doctors. The release noted that in February, even WSIB President Tom Teahen acknowledged that the board had a ‘systemic problem’ with medical evidence. After an inadequate internal self-investigation, the board declared that everything is fine, but workers disagree.

They also called on WSIB to give injured workers time to heal. WSIB’s “Better at Work” policy pushes many injured workers to return to their jobs before they feel ready, sometimes against the wishes of their doctors. The WSIB justifies this by offering evidence from researchers who are often employed by the insurance industry, the release continues.

As well ONIWG is calling for the extension of WSIB coverage to all workers. Only about two-thirds of Ontario’s workplaces are covered by WSIB. Workplace injury can happen anywhere and coverage should be offered to everyone, they indicate.

“Injured workers in this province are tired of being mistreated by a system that is designed to reduce costs, instead of a system that is designed to help workers,” Mr. Noiles says. “Today we stand with all Ontario workers in our fight against austerity and in our fight for fairness for those who are injured on the job.”