A system under attack
Ontario’s workers’ compensation system was created to provide fair and humane compensation for work-related injury while balancing worker, employer and the public interests. In the 100 years since Sir William Meredith‘s draft Act became law (passed 1914, in effect 1915), advocates and injured workers have needed to actively engage to keep the system true to the underlying “Meredith” principles. Today injured workers face unprecedented attacks on their rights and cutbacks in their benefits.
Needlessly complex and adversarial
Rather than receiving support for recovery and return to meaningful work, all too often injured workers, especially those with a life-long, permanent disability, meet with a “look to deny mentality” which leaves them facing alone the financial and health impacts of their occupational injury or disease
Today’s injured worker faces a long list of challenges, including:
- increased likelihood of a denied claim
- appeal delays
- reduced benefits and deemed (phantom) wages
- disrespectful and poor communication
- aggressive claims management practices by employers
- intimidating surveillance
- cuts to medical rehabilitation services including physiotherapy and medication
- WSIB medical assessments that may override their own doctor’s recommendations and downplay the psychological impacts of injury
- inadequate job retraining
- a labour market reluctant to employ workers with disabilities
In 1976 Ontario’s WCB proudly declared in its publication (“The Workmen’s Compensation Board: how it works and who it works for”) that “workers’ compensation has distinct advantages to both the employer and employee over the old paternalism or litigation process, and is essentially humanitarian … the work of the Board is directed towards the benefit of the injured Ontario worker.”
On the 100th anniversary (2013) of the Meredith Report, a Reconvened Commission listened to and documented the experiences of injured workers, their families and advocates around the province. The findings, presented to the Meredith Conference: No “Half-Measures” (Oct. 31 – Nov. 2), confirmed the need, in light of decades of negative reforms and cost-cutting on the backs of injured workers, for a return to Meredith principles to restore fairness to Ontario’s workers’ compensation system.
- King, Andrew. 2014. Making Sense of Law Reform: A Case Study of Workers’ Compensation Law Reform in Ontario 1980 to 2012. Ottawa: Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
- Bedard, Ella. 2014, Dec. 15. “Across Canada, Worker Compensation Systems are in Crisis.” Rabble.ca
- Boden Les, ed. 2012. “Special issue: Re-thinking workers’ compensation – the human rights perspective.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine 55(6): 483-569
(For more resources, search the IWC Library catalogue)
The Meredith Principles rest on the “historic compromise” that gave both employers and workers financial security:
- employers would be protected from lawsuits by injured workers and be able to calculate payments as a cost of doing business.
- injured workers would receive prompt benefits for as long as the disability lasted in a non-adversarial system.
Compensation is paid without regard to negligence or fault of the worker, co-worker or employer.
An inquiry system, based on benefit of the doubt that “seeks to compensate,” and cannot be challenged in court. No blame.
Compensation for as long as disability lasts
Worker can depend on security of benefits based on lost wages and promptly paid. The injured worker was not to become a financial burden on their family or the community.
Employer pays the rates because the costs can be passed on to others (in prices of goods and services, and in wage negotiations). Meredith noted that workers cannot pass the cost on and pay in other ways, including some level of lost income despite the compensation.
Employers pay into single accident fund and do not suffer financial consequences from the cost of a specific accident.
Independent Public Agency
Set up to be a non-partisan organisation to administer claims and assessments.
…Half measures which mitigate but do not remove injustice are, in my judgment, to be avoided. It would be the gravest mistake if questions were to be determined not by a consideration of what is just to the workingman, but of what is the least he can be put off with…W. R. Meredith
A platform for change
The Injured Workers’ Movement has 4 key demands:
- eliminate experience rating
- eliminate deeming
- provide universal worker’s compensation coverage
- provide full cost of living protection
Ontario’s injured worker community and labour groups, following a 2001 conference, developed a vision of how a good workers’ compensation system should work. The blueprint is in the document “Platform for Change” (2013 draft summary), adopted by the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Group and the Ontario Federation of Labour in 2004. (2021 draft revision in progress)
Key Concepts from the Platform
In Ontario, we need a workers’ compensation system that fully compensates and supports those suffering from workplace injuries and illnesses, that helps injured workers return to employment with dignity, and that effectively promotes workplace safety.
The purpose of the workers’ compensation system shall be to:
- compensate injured workers and survivors
- recognize and compensate all work-related occupational injuries and diseases
- provide inclusive no-fault coverage to all workers and to secondary victims of occupational disease
The workers’ compensation system shall be
- administered by a public board named the Workers’ Compensation Board
- funded collectively by employers
- reviewed publicly at regular intervals
- reflect full income loss into retirement
- reflect loss to quality of life
- maintain employee benefit coverage and CPP contributions
- be based on real-life wage loss, not deemed earnings
- be adjusted fully for cost of living
- be timely, accessible, and responsive
- be highly trained, well paid, and compassionate
- provide translation services when necessary
- provide clear written information to workers about the system and their claims
The workers compensation system shall support health care that
- is the same as for all Canadians in a public non-tiered system
- includes time to heal
- ensures the worker’s right to choose health care providers
- respects the worker’s treating health care providers
The workers compensation system shall include vocational and social rehabilitation that
- is comprehensive and consultative
- recognizes and compensates for injured workers’ limitations
- recognises and compensates for limited employer interest in employing injured workers
- provides quality public rehabilitation services, including ESL
Access to Justice shall be maintained by
- ensuring the system is non-adversarial
- eliminating time limits for worker appeals
- limiting employer rights to appeal to initial entitlement and some return to work issues
- fully disclosing all claim documents to injured workers
- deciding appeals through an independent, competent tripartite Tribunal not bound by Board policy
There shall be sufficient funding for arms length programmes and other independent institutions including
- the Office of the Worker Adviser
- Community Legal Clinics and Legal Aid Certificates
- support systems such as the Occupational Health Clinics of Ontario Workers and the Workers’ Health and Safety Centre
- the Institute for Work and Health or other research initiatives
- the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups
Workplace health and safety shall be improved by
- basing incentives, if any, on factual and accountable safety improvements
- prohibiting employer’s use of workplace incentive programmes
- eliminating experience rating programmes
- ensuring the Ministry of Labour vigorously prosecutes violations
- ensuring the Ministry of Labour undertakes frequent and detailed workplace site visits