Injured workers mount Day of Shame protest to pressure province on WSIB

LITTLE CURRENT—A hardy group of injured workers and their supporters from the Manitoulin North Shore Injured Workers Group braved scattered showers and brisk winds to gather at the Little Current Swing Bridge on Monday for a ‘Day of Shame’ protest meant to bring pressure on the provincial government to stop the Workman’s Insurance and Safety Board from making changes to the way injured worker’s claims are adjudicated.

“This has to be stopped and soon,” said the group’s chair Colin Pick. “These changes are going to do a lot of harm to some of the most vulnerable people in our community and they are supposed to be coming into implementation very, very soon.”

Mr. Pick noted that issues with the Workplace Insurance and Safety Board have already led to injured workers being much more likely to wind up homeless and on the street and that the costs associated with battling WSIB decisions cause tremendous hardship. “The human costs are horrendous,” he said.

The signs wielded by the demonstrators may have been targeting Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her party, but Algoma-Manitoulin Liberal hopeful Craig Hughson stopped by to hear the grievances being put forward by the group and to discuss possible solutions.

“I am a fan of sitting down and getting results,” said Mr. Hughson, “not waving placards. I wish they had given me a call on this sooner.”

[pullquote]“I am a fan of sitting down and getting results,” said Mr. Hughson, “not waving placards. I wish they had given me a call on this sooner.”[/pullquote]

The Manitoulin North Shore Injured Workers Group was initially critical of NDP incumbent Mike Mantha’s response to their issues, but the organization’s spokespersons said that Mr. Mantha has since stepped up.

“He (Mr. Mantha) has really gotten onboard now,” said Manitoulin Legal Clinic Executive Director Mike Shain. “He is working closely with us now.”

“I have met with many of these workers and their families and have brought their concerns to Queen’s Park,” said Mr. Mantha. “Sadly our efforts continue to fall on the deaf ears of this Liberal government.”

“Since 2009 when David Marshall became the head of WSIB, we have seen drastic reduction of benefits for injured workers,” continued the NDP candidate. “While Marshall receives a 20 percent bonus on his $400,000 salary, WSIB claim denial rates have shot up by 50 percent. There has been a cut of $631 million in benefits and vocational training has been slashed from 19 months to five months. The average annual benefit paid to an injured worker at a six-year post injury review has been reduced by 28.6 percent. There has also been a reduction of 31.3 percent in permanent impairment awards from 2010 to 2011.”

The issue of changes to the WSIB regulatory process are not normally the stuff of debate in the legislature, being considered part of the operation of a free-standing crown agency and not a legislative matter—but Mr. Pick was not buying that argument. “They have ways of bringing these things up,” he said.

The Manitoulin North Shore Injured Workers Group has vowed to keep up the pressure on the provincial government no matter who wins the current election, but they are concerned that once the changes are implemented they will be nearly impossible to overturn. “It has got to be stopped before they put them in,” said Mr. Pick. “The impact of these changes will be terrible.”

Among the proposed changes are the removal of an opportunity for an injured worker to make an oral argument for their appeal of a WSIB decision on a claim and the use of preexisting conditions in determining injury payouts.

“If you hurt your back as a teenager falling off your bicycle and went to the hospital to get it checked, they could bring that up in your claim 30 years later after you get hurt at work,” said Mr. Pick. “Who hasn’t gone to emergency for some reason over the years? They will be able to reduce your claim for all kinds of reasons and there won’t be a thing you can do about it.”

The WSIB was first set up 100 years ago to protect companies from injury claims by workers who are hurt on the job by preventing workers from suing in court, in return, workers were to receive fair compensation for their loss and injury through a system of payroll levies.