One in four workers in Ontario, approximately 1.7 million workers, are not covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, giving the province one of the lowest coverage rates in the country. Most provinces automatically cover all workers under workers’ compensation, except those whose employers are in specifically exempted industries. However Ontario makes only those industries specifically listed in the Schedules 1 and 2 (O.Reg 175/98 of the Act) participate in the workers’ compensation system, excluding many in new sectors such as information technologies and service industries. Employers not mandated to provide compensation can voluntarily sign onto Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), buy private insurance (though employers are discovering WSIB is a cheaper option) or do nothing.
A 2019 Study of the Impacts of WSIA Coverage Expansion in Ontario by economist Boris Kralj looked at the effect of universal coverage on short-term and longer-term employment levels by industry, WSIB finances and health care costs in the taxpayer-funded Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) system. Addressing employer concerns over job losses due to increased labour costs via WSIB premiums, the study found that expanding coverage to previously uncovered sectors is likely to have an extremely small, and ultimately only short-lived impact on employment levels.
As Harry Goslin, president of the Ontario Compensation Employees Union (OECU), a CUPE local representing 4,300 WSIB employees, explained in a recent Rabble.ca post that the findings confirm the economic case for universal coverage as benefitting employers, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and the taxpayer:
- WSIB premiums would be lowered across the board as, under our system of collective liability, more employers paying into the pool would spread the financial risk of injuries more equitably
- Potential costs savings for WSIB finances estimated at $59.2 million towards the Board’s legislative requirements and $162.6 million towards its administration overhead
- Tax relief – expansion of WSIA coverage would appropriately shift related health care costs from the general public, through OHIP, to the newly covered sector employers (with estimated savings to OHIP of approximately $128.5 million)
- And, although not calculated in this study, cost relief for other publicly-funded programs such as Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works to which non-covered injured workers are forced to turn for medical costs and income security
What it means for injured workers
The case of Maryam Nazemi is unfortunately all too typical of workers without coverage – and of women workers over-represented in the uncovered service sector. A work-acquired spinal cord injury left Maryam, an early childhood educator at a private school, with more than severe physical pain. Without compensation for lost wages or access to the WSIB’s medical rehabilitation and retraining services and with a young family to care for, work injury for her resulted in devastating financial and emotional stress. (Her experiences have since led her to become an activist in the fight for coverage for all)
While universal coverage has long been a demand of the injured worker community and its advocates, and recommended by government and WSIB reviews (including the 1996 Jackson report, 2002 Brock Smith report), little action has been taken since 2008 when Bill 119 added mandatory coverage for independent operators and some construction workers.
The OCEU’s Cover Me WSIB campaign reminds workers, employers and government again of the benefits of universal workers’ compensation coverage “to keep Ontario workers safe and create a level playing field for all industries in Ontario.” Sign the OCEU’s recent petition to lawmakers as the government conducts its review of the WSIB.
- 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 & Analytics.