Monday was Graduation and Speech night at Toronto’s Injured Workers’ Speakers School (IWSS). Fellow injured workers, colleagues, and clinic staff celebrated with 2016 Spring graduates: Ruben, Seeta, Julie, Mark, Jenny, Heidi.
Organizing the event were IWSS facilitators Kate and Heather, Aidan and longtime instructors Orlando and Marion. A guest panel (Christine Nugent, Ryan Fritsch, Edie Strachan and Peter Tabuns) commented on each 5 minute speech by the graduates. A full house echoed the panelists’ common responses that they were inspired by the workers’ courage and endurance but enraged at their treatment after injury.Injured by hard work
In their speeches, the graduates all powerfully delivered their personal experiences as good, hardworking employees, valued until their injury – and now dealing with a workers’ compensation system whose “principled core has been hollowed out” and which denies them fair compensation. In their individual stories, they put a face to workers trying to cope with a second harm – the one resulting from policies of deeming and experience rating, denial of treating doctor’s report, pressure to return to work before healing, inadequate retraining and benefit cuts. It has become a system that “seems set up for employers, not workers.” While each story was unique, a common theme was the need to fight for a just system not only for themselves, but for all injured workers.
Presentation of certificates was followed by a celebration dinner. Music was supplied by Peter Page channeling Johnny Cash with “WSIB prison blues” and Heather Cherron Von Atzigen with her also popular “We shall rise.”
Speaker Schools – education that empowers
IWC’s Speaker School began over 10 years ago as 3-hour classes in an educational program delivered over 14 weeks to give injured workers a sound understanding of the Meredith principles and history underlying Ontario’s current workers’ compensation system. Given that permanent injury means workers may be navigating that system and dealing with the Board for many years, if not a lifetime, the course provides valuable information on how Meredith’s non-adversarial workers’ compensation was intended to work. The success of Thunder Bay injured workers group’s course on public speaking skills inspired the Clinic, supported by the Research Action Alliance on the Consequences of Injury, to combine both aspects into a program to educate and support injured workers’ self-advocacy. Similar programs are now held throughout the province.