On October 31 in 1913 Justice Sir William Meredith’s three-year Royal Commission delivered the report that would form the basis of Ontario’s workers’ compensation system – and those across Canada. Following extensive public consultation around the province and travels to see how European countries were handling work-related injury, his report set forward a system for fair compensation that balanced the interests of worker, employer and the public.
Employers would be protected from lawsuits by injured workers, and injured workers would receive prompt benefits for as long as the disability lasted.
The underlying “Meredith principles” are still valid today and recognized, if imperfectly, by all Canadian provincial workers’ compensation boards:
- No Fault – No need to prove the accident was the employer’s fault, no extra charge to the employer.
- Non-adversarial – An inquiry system, based on benefit of the doubt that “seeks to compensate,” and cannot be challenged in court. No blame.
- Compensation for as long as disability lasts – Worker can depend on security of benefits based on lost wages and promptly paid. The injured worker was not to become a financial burden on their family or the community.
- Employer pays – Employer pays the rates because the costs can be passed on to others (in prices of goods and services, and in wage negotiations). Meredith noted that workers cannot pass the cost on and pay in other ways, including some level of lost income despite the compensation.
- Collective liability – Employers pay into single accident fund and do not suffer financial consequences from the cost of a specific accident.
- Independent Public Agency – Set up to be a non-partisan organisation to administer claims and assessments.
“Hold them accountable”
One hundred years later … Ahead of the No “Half Measures” Conference marking the centennial anniversary of Meredith’s report, Robert Storey (Director, McMaster University School of Labour Studies) with co-chair Carolann Elston, “revived” the Commission to hear from today’s injured workers on how Ontario’s workers’ compensation system is working. From May to October 2013 they travelled to seven Ontario cities (St Catharines, Toronto, Hamilton, North Bay, Thunder Bay, Barrie and London) gathering testimony from injured workers:
What we found was a strong belief among injured workers that the Ontario workers’ compensation system is broken. The legislative changes and the policies and regulations that have been put in place particularly over the last 20 years have all but eliminated the positive reforms of the of the 1970s and 1980s. It is a system, they believe, that has lost its moral compass …”
For many injured workers in rural areas, as Christine Nugent of Barrie Injured Workers’ Group emphasized in a recent presentation, these sessions provided the first realization that they were not alone in their battles for fair compensation from a workers’ compensation system that had become increasingly adversarial and overly-bureaucratic. The shared issues they, and injured workers everywhere in Ontario, faced and continue to face in dealing with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) are systemic failings that call out for urgent law reform and policy change.
Three of the major issues identified by injured workers to the Revived Meredith Commission and included in its recommendations are ones at the centre of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups’ “Workers’ Comp Is a Right” campaign:
- Provide benefits payment for as long as an injured worker’s disabilities last (no denial through “discovery” of a pre-existing condition)
- End the practice of deeming
- Give injured workers’ treating physicians the determinant say in their diagnosis and treatment
In this campaign, injured workers are coming together to demand their social and moral right to the fairness upon which Sir William Meredith based the workers’ compensation system. Their collective action reflects the determination heard from injured workers during the Revived Meredith Commission to fight not only for themselves, but other injured workers and for those coming after them.
“For injured workers, holding the government and the workers’ compensation system ‘accountable,’ means justice, speedily and humanely rendered.”
- Storey, Robert & Carolann Elston. 2015. “My Compensation Will End On My 65th Birthday When My Brain Injury Goes Away.” Final Report of the Revived Sir William Meredith Royal Commission. Hamilton.
- Bedard, Ella. 2013 Oct 28. “Bringing Awareness About Injured Workers And Fighting For A Just Compensation System.” Rabble.ca
- Meredith, William Ralph; Ontario. Commission on Laws Relating to the Liability of Employers to Make Compensation to their Employees for Injuries Received in the Course of their Employment which are in Force in Other Countries. 1913. Final Report. Toronto: King’s Printer. [Summary]