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 (75.3% in 2020 – AWCBC statistics ), with nearly 2 million workers left unprotected and vulnerable.
- The list of industries excluded from participating in Ontario’s workers’ compensation system is detailed in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act‘s General Regulation O.Reg. 175/98. (Until Jan. 2020 the province was one of the few in Canada operating under the ‘inclusionary’ principle).
- As the list of excluded employers shows, Ontario’s coverage still fails to reflect the many changes over the past century in Canada’s economic production from one heavily based on manufacturing and the land. This means an increasing number of workers employed in the service or technology sectors and gig economy lack workers’ compensation coverage.
- Among some of those non-covered are workers in private healthcare facilities; social assistance services; banks and other financial institutions; information and computer-based technology services; broadcasting; arts and recreation; administration and support ……
- Employers in ‘exempted’ industries 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.
- Women of Inspiration. 2020 Nov. 27. Universal Coverage Overview
- Women of Inspiration & Maryam Nazemi. 2020 Apr. Universal Workers Compensation and the COVID Pandemic
- 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
- 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