In leaving 2021 behind, a round up of selected events from the past year that underscore increased awareness of social and health inequities that face too many workers and their families; the power of solidarity and support, collaboration and compassion among the injured worker community and with its occupational health, labour and legal partners; an unwavering determination, pandemics notwithstanding, to fight for system that properly recognizes, fairly compensates and works to prevent occupational diseases and injuries. Wishing you all the very best for health, hope and happiness in 2022.
The year starts as 2020 ended, with a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario workplaces placing a disproportionate burden on racialized and Indigenous workers. While the government improves workplace inspections of infection control, demands increase for policies to improve the employment conditions of essential workers, including reinstatement of paid sick days. Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) resumes its Occ-COVID webinar series to share scientific evidence on keeping workplaces safe.
The Workers Comp Is A Rights (WCIAR) campaign continues lobbying the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) for much-needed COVID-19 relief for injured workers.
Ontario’s Ministry of Labour opens Temporary Help Agency Consultations aimed at addressing employment standards violations. While the Workers Action Centre, Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic (IWC) and other advocates support the proposed mandatory licensing of temp agencies and agencies recruiting migrant workers, they also call for regulations set out under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) s.83(4) to be immediately brought into effect – removing financial incentives under the WSIB’s experience rating program for companies to contract out their more dangerous work to agency workers.
Quebec’s Bill 59 overhauling the province’s workplace health & safety and compensation regime goes to Committee for public hearings. (Despite widespread opposition by unions, advocates and healthcare professionals as a setback for workers’ rights, particularly women, the amended legislation comes into force in October).
Alberta – Following the large-scale outbreak at the Cargill meat plant, the RCMP opens the first known police investigation in Canada of a workplace-related COVID-19 death. The labour movement continues to raise awareness that Ontario has been reluctant to use a Westray lens and open similar criminal negligence investigations.
Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers Support Group hosts a second year of online weekly information and advocacy sessions , collaborating with legal clinics and other partners to keep making progress on rights education and reform.
Calls mount for equity for low-income, essential precarious workers in the vaccine rollout. The Ministry of Labour issues non-compliance orders to one in five southernwestern Ontario farms following inspections to prevent last years’ COVID-19 toll on migrant workers. Advocates, including Justice 4 Migrant Workers, emphasize that safety blitzes alone do not address the systemic problems creating unsafe environments.
With increasing evidence of the lasting health effects on many who contract COVID-19, concern grows over WSIB recognition of “long COVID” and the Board’s insistence, under its Better at Work policy, on return to work before time to heal.
The 22nd RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) International Awareness Day (Feb. 28), founded by injured worker activist leader Catherine Fenech, is celebrated in a week-long series of webinars hosted by OHCOW.
Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG) makes a submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) consultation on Convention Article 27 (the right to work and employment). The brief references ONIWG’s earlier submission to the CRPD on income security and WSIB’s deeming practices.
Organizers at Warehouse Workers Centre express dismay at the length of time taken for public health orders to force a shut down of the Amazon facility in Peel over a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak and labour violations.
WSIA amendment Bill 267, introduced by NDP MPP Monique Taylor, would provide essential workers with presumptive access to WSIB benefits for mental health injuries sustained at work during the pandemic. (The bill is later defeated by vote at second reading).
The government announces a consultation on extending WSIA Coverage for Personal Support Workers and Developmental Support Workers, responding to a recommendation in the WSIB Operational Review. While supporting the proposal, IWC and other legal clinics emphasize in submissions that mandatory and universal workers’ compensation coverage is a protection that should be provided to all workers.