The government has announced its choice for the new WSIB President and CEO : Thomas Teahen, Wynne’s current Chief of Staff and formerly the Board’s Chief Services Officer (2010-2013).
Injured worker groups are disappointed that requests to the Premier for an open public process went unanswered and that the selection process was conducted in secret by a private company. The Ministry of Labour’s December 10 news release urges Mr Teahen to continue on the current path of his predecessor, David I Marshall. Unfortunately that same course designed to eliminate the unfunded liability – with results touted in the recent WSIB “2015 Economic Statement” – ignores several inconvenient truths:
- The Harris government in large part created the unfunded liability in the 1990s by recklessly reducing (by 30%) the employers’ assessments intended to finance Ontario’s workers compensation system
- Successive governments have frozen assessments or kept them artificially low, and now the WSIB proposes to lower them by 13% by 2022 (with future reductions to potentially lower premiums employers pay by 46% of current levels)
Injured workers disproportionately bear the burden of this policy of austerity:
The 2015 Economic Statement promises to return $2 billion annually to the Ontario employers and economy when full funding is reached (projected 2021-22, now 5-6 years ahead of schedule). Yet the annual cost of benefits has been reduced by over $800 million since 2009. We question how and why this has occurred, and whether, given the proposed reductions in employer funding, these benefit cutbacks are now locked in? Injured workers were told there could be no improvement in benefits until the unfunded liability was reduced. Cost of living adjustment is not an improvement, it merely ensures injured workers continue to receive the same benefit they were awarded. Now the WSIB’s first priority is to cut employers rates, not improve compensation for the injured. Improving compensation for injured workers is not a priority for our workers compensation board.
There have been sharp reductions in non-economic loss (NEL) awards (compensation for the effects of permanent workplace injury on physical or psychological impacts). Since 2010 the number of workers accepted by the WSIB as having a permanent impairment from lower back injuries has dropped by over 80%!
Recent cost of living adjustments to benefits, while welcome, will not be brought in until 2018 and ignore the two decades injured workers have endured of benefits eaten away by inflation. The WSIB’s 2012 report on “Funding Fairness” recommended that the full cost of living adjustment should begin in 2013 and also recommended an immediate increase to the benefit base of all partially disabled workers to compensate for their losses due to 20 years of erosion by inflation (page 103). Why do injured workers have to wait to 2018? What about the compensation they have lost after 20 years of inflation?
In the past, Mr Teahen has shown himself willing to meet with injured workers and advocates. We look forward to the same in his role as President, and hope that he will be committed to:
- Upholding the Meredith principles at the basis of Ontario’s workers’ compensation through meaningful action
- Providing fair, impartial and timely compensation, ethically and humanely delivered
- Conveying this mission down through the organization and out into the community
- Understanding the social and economic realities that affect claimants
- Encouraging transparency, collaboration and open communication