“Fair appeals for injured workers under threat, experts warn” / Sara Mojtehedzadeh (Toronto Star, Apr. 6, 2016)
Workers’ compensation system is at a “critical moment” as backlogs and loss of expertise kick in at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal (WSIAT), advocates say. Since 2010 when the WSIB focused on cutting its unfunded liability, the Tribunal’s appeals caseload has skyrocketed from 4,000 to almost 9,000 by the end of 2014 (“The Appeals Cup Overflow”). In that same period wait times for injured workers to be offered a first hearing date have risen sharply, from six months to the current 17 months. “The effect, critics say, is that vulnerable workers are often trapped in an emotionally and financially draining system for years on end…”
(It’s important to remember that the backlog we’re seeing at the Tribunal is caused by an increase in denials and bad decisions at the Board. When the Board denies more appeals, it doesn’t make the problem go away – it just shifts it up the chain, so the Tribunal has to deal with it. And in the meantime, workers are forced into poverty as they wait their turn in an over-full system)
The Tribunal is facing other challenges. The Toronto Star article notes that for the first time the new Tribunal chair appointment will be subject to the Ontario government’s reduced term limits of 10 years for public appointments (so too the current Tribunal appointees). This, according to the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators, means a sudden and significant loss of valuable expertise, when, in the coming year, the average experience of WSIAT adjudicators will drop from 10 years to three.
While acknowledging the Tribunal’s history of reasoned decisionmaking and fairness, advocates, including Joel Schwartz of IAVGO community legal clinic, workers compensation lawyer Antony Singleton and former Appeals Tribunal chair Ron Ellis, point to the threat these mandatory limits pose to the Tribunal’s independence. “The more secure tribunal members are in their jobs, the less they have to worry about pissing off the government with their rulings,” Schwartz said….
“You’ll end up with the appeals being heard by a majority of rookie adjudicators appointed by a government that has an interest in minimizing the cost of workers compensation benefits in the province,” Ellis said.”