Most people think that all workplace accidents and illnesses are covered by our compensation system. Unfortunately that is not the case. In fact, Ontario has one of Canada’s lowest coverage rates (74% in 2014), with nearly 2 million workers left unprotected and vulnerable.
- The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act makes only those industries specifically listed participate in Ontario’s workers’ compensation system. Most other provinces cover all workers by default and write into their legislation only the exemptions
- Ontario’s list has barely changed in over 50 years and has not kept up to the changing types of industry. This means an increasing number of employees are not covered by new sectors such as information technologies and service industries.
- Among the non-covered are workers in private day care and private health facilities, banks and other financial institutions, call centres and high-tech manufacturing.
- Employers in industries not specifically named in the legislation may provide “voluntary” WSIB coverage or choose private insurance – or save money by opting for no protection and letting their worker take the risk.
The negative consequence of not having workers’ compensation is very often borne by women workers, who are disproportionately employed in non-covered services sectors. Many injured women face economic and social constraints if they have no coverage by the WSIB, often arising from their position as women, caretakers of families, mothers and other roles.
Are we moving closer to full coverage?
The “Meredith report” on which Ontario’s compensation system is based clearly stated the goal was to be comprehensive coverage. Yet only small steps have been taken since the 1915 Act. In 1996 the government’s “Jackson Report” recommended expanded coverage. The WSIB’s own 2002 “Coverage Review” (Brock Smith report) called for all workers to be covered, however in 2006 the Minister of Labour admitted universal coverage was still not being considered.
Amid fierce opposition from many employers, in 2008 the government did pass Bill 119 which amended the Act to provide mandatory coverage for independent operators and some other individuals working in construction. Although both the Board’s 2012 Funding Review (Arthurs) and 2014 Rate Framework Consultation (Stanley) called for a review of coverage, injured workers are still waiting.
It’s not only fair, it makes economic sense
..I am convinced that the issue [extending coverage] is so critical for the future of Ontario’s workplace insurance system that it deserves early and extensive study…” (Arthurs, 2012)
The right to workers’ compensation is not only a question of fairness and good social policy. It also makes economic sense under our system of collective liability to spread the financial risk. This lowers average costs and levels the playing field among all employers. University of Toronto professor Douglas Hyatt’s 2003 study for the Board concluded full coverage would likely have a small and temporary impact on employment. Studies by economists Hugh Mackenzie (2008, 2009) and Boris Kralj (2019) detail the benefits of universal coverage for the Board’s financial reform.
- Noorsumar, Zaid. 2019 Sep. 10. “Ontario union calls for universal coverage to address $1.7 million uninsured workers.” Rabble.ca
- Kralj, Boris. 2019 Apr. 22. A Study of the Impacts of WSIA Coverage Expansion in Ontario. Toronto: Perspicacity Intelligence & Anaytics
- Women of Inspiration. 2019 Feb 28. Letter to the WSIB President re:Status of Universal WSIB Coverage.
- Ontario Compensation Employees Union. Cover Me WSIB Campaign
- IWO Fact sheet. 2010 Nov. Universal workers compensation coverage
- McCutchen, Brendan. 2009 Aug. “Exclusions and omissions under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act : towards a Charter argument.” IAVGO reporting service 22(1): 17-38
- Kosny, A. 2009. “Invisible workplaces and forgotten workers? A case study of occupational safety and health and workers’ compensation coverage in Canadian non-profit organisations.” Policy and Practice in Health and Safety 7(2): 93-113 [IWH Research highlight summary]
- Injured Workers’ Consultants. 2008, Nov. 17. Submission to the Standing Committee on Social Policy re Bill 119. Toronto: IWC – Supports the recommendations of two public consultations calling for universal coverage