(Update: Bill 144 passed in the legislature Dec. 10, 2015)
In second reading debate in the House Tuesday on Bill 144, Budget Measures Act 2015, the Hon. Michael Gravelle (Lib – Thunder Bay-Superior North) spoke in support of workers’ compensation benefits being fully indexed to inflation for all injured worker recipients. Currently only that small percentage of injured workers who are fully covered by the Board for lost earnings receive increases fully adjusted for inflation.
(The amendment is contained in Schedule 23 of the Bill: “The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 is amended to eliminate alternate and prescribed temporary indexing factors and to establish an indexing factor to be used for annual adjustments to amounts payable under the Act. Transitional matters are provided for.”)
The Minister noted that this has been an important issue to injured workers groups across the province, including the Thunder Bay & District Support Group in his riding.
In this legislation, if it’s passed, we will be adjusting benefit indexation for all injured workers on disability benefits beginning January 1, 2018. They will receive full consumer price index benefits, CPI benefits, on an annual basis—with no upper limit, by the way, depending on what the cost-of-living adjustment is each year. That’s a really big issue. We’re making interim adjustments until that period of time…”
In fact, injured workers, their advocates and labour have repeatedly called for the restoration of full cost of living protection since it was removed in 1995 as they’ve seen the purchasing power of benefits steadily decline and the poverty rate rise. In his 2012 report Funding Fairness for the WSIB, chair Harry Arthurs also recommended restoring full indexation (p.102).
At last year’s annual December rally outside the Ministry of Labour, the Hon. Kevin Flynn promised injured workers that full indexation would soon be coming soon:
It’s something I’m committed to doing,” Flynn told the crowd of about 150, who braved the cold and wind. “It’s something the premier has said, without any question, that she wants to see.”
Injured workers have heard government promises of full indexation many times before. Let us hope this time it is made a reality.
On Tuesday also, MPP Michael Harris (PC – Kitchener-Conestoga) introduced Bill 147, Workplace Safety and Insurance Amendment Act (Firefighter Benefits), 2015. The amendment addresses situations where a firefighter is entitled to benefits because of an occupational disease that may have occurred as a result of the firefighter’s employment while concurrently employed as a firefighter by one or more Schedule 1 employers and one or more Schedule 2 employers.