What happens to people who are injured at work? Most of the time, workers heal and they return to their regular jobs and lives. But what about those workers who don’t fully recover? Some of those people are looked after by workers’ compensation, as they should be. But many are not. By WSIB’s own statistics, almost half of permanently injured workers have neither jobs nor workers’ compensation benefits.
This morning at Queens Park, the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONWIG) released a whistleblower report called Phantom Jobs & Empty Pockets: What really happens to workers with work acquired disabilities.
Using secret documents acquired from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) by a series of Freedom of Information requests, the report shows that injured workers are being forced into poverty – with the full knowledge of the compensation board – by a practice called “deeming”. Deeming is when the WSIB pretends an injured worker has a job that they do not have, and cuts their benefits as a result.
Deeming by the numbers
- WSIB benefits are not paid by taxpayers, but rather, by premiums charged to employers. When an injured worker’s benefits are cut they can end up on welfare. Social assistance payments to injured workers cost taxpayers at least $48 million per year – costs that should be paid by wealthy employers.
- Deeming disproportionally affects women, poor people, low-skilled workers, those with language barriers, older workers, and Ontarians with disabilities. The most vulnerable workers in the system are most at risk of being left without benefits and unable to find work.
- Only 27% of workers with English language barriers secured employment after completing work transition, but most are deemed and have their benefits cut.
- About 4,350 workers are referred to Work Transition services for assessment each year, but only 2,300 workers end up starting and completing work transition plans. That means that only half (53%) of workers who are referred to work transition services actually complete plans. As far as we know, the WSIB doesn’t even bother to track what happens to the other 47% who are not given retraining, or who are unable to finish their programs.
- Only 17% of workers who were told they could be cashiers were able to find jobs, and only 49% of workers designated as customer service agents were able to secure work in their field. Yet all of them have their benefits cut.
- If you endure a permanent injury at work, you have a 46% chance of spending your life in poverty – about the odds of a coin toss.
Despite the enormous damage that is currently being done by deeming, the Government of Ontario would only have to change one sentence of the law to fix the problem.