When the government of Mike Harris overhauled the Workers’ Compensation Board almost 15 years ago through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, it created a complex and adversarial system that fails to meet the needs of injured working people and their families, the Commission on Quality Public Services and Tax Fairness was told Monday afternoon in Thunder Bay.
“The WSIB is now a system that has seen a huge growth in ‘employer representatives or consultants’ who offer their services to employers, often to the disadvantage of workers injured or made sick by their work,” said Steve Mantis, representing the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group.
“”Unfortunately the employer consultants do not usually share the same goals as the employers they work for and certainly not for the system as a whole. They’re out to make a quick buck and if the injured worker suffers, no problem. It’s a system that is out of control.”
Mantis told Commission Chair Judy Wasylycia-Leis at the public hearing that the current provincial government has chosen to “accommodate” the employers who lobby for reduced premiums. “Injured workers want to go back to work but accommodation for them is discretionary.
He also pointed to a fundamental weakness of the WSIB and the Workmen’s Compensation Board before it: tracking the outcomes of people these agencies are supposed to serve. “This is a problem that particularly affects those injured workers who end up with a permanent and life-long disability. We need a tracking system that targets these workers’ employment, wage loss and health status.
“No action is being taken. We feel like we’re invisible,” told the Commission, citing a 2006 study that found that 57 per cent of homeless people in Toronto were hurt at work.
“No one bothers to keep track of our loss and suffering and people believe injured people get ‘cash for life.’ That’s not our experience.
In a study of permanently injured workers in Thunder Bay, the injured workers support group made the following findings:
71 per cent live under the poverty line
42 per cent receive either Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program support
18 per cent receive WSIB benefits
15 per cent are working
63 per cent are depressed
15 per cent have contemplated suicide
“Why are we being ignored?” Mantis asked.
In a presentation she titled “Not the 1990s: Budgeting for Our Times,” Trish Hennessy of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives told the Commission how income inequality has grown since the introduction of steep corporate tax cuts in the first Harris term in office.
“Economist Hugh Mackenzie has estimated that Ontario has lost $16 billion annually to tax cuts since 1998,” Hennessy told Wasylycia-Leis. She cited several examples of how successive governments have handed over to the private sector aspects of tax policies that have favoured the rich at the expense of working people and the middle class.
“Instead of defined pensions, we are offered RRSPs. Instead of an EI program that’s recession-ready, we are offered tax free savings accounts. Instead of affordable university tuition, we are offered RESPs. Instead of investing in affordable housing, the banks, with the government’s encouragement, extended to the middle class bigger mortgages, lines of credit and credit cards.
“Essentially what these words reflect back to us is the heavy influence of the financial sector over our lives, and over our bottom line. This isn’t a government spending problem. It’s a revenue problem that started with the irresponsible behaviour in the financial sector.”
Former Thunder Bay MP, MPP and city councillor Iain Angus told the Commission he was appearing to share his observation on public services after more than five decades as an elected representative and volunteer activist in the community.
He encouraged the Commission to do whatever it can to convince parties in the Ontario legislature to extend the deficit elimination target date further than 2017. “We can fine tune government rather than cut public services.”
He traced the history of modern public services to the inadequacy or failure in what the private sector was prepared to do.
“Public services were created in an area where the private sector is not prepared to invest money because there was no return on investment. Public services were created where the private sector was only interested in catering to the elite, but not the rest of society.
“Public services are in place for good reason and we should not arbitrarily discard them as being too expensive.”
He pointed out that cuts to public spending at all three levels of government have had a damaging effect on the local Thunder Bay economy. More than 1,200 well-paying public sector jobs have been eliminated since 2000 resulting in dozens of small businesses going bankrupt; out-migration of some of the community’s best and brightest citizens and young people, and a dramatic drop in the value of the housing market.
“Ironically, we have seen a reverse in that trend in recent years through public sector spending on our new hospital, a new medical school at Lakehead University and the establishment of a medical research foundation,” Angus told the Commission.
Others who appeared at the afternoon Thunder Bay public hearing included Judith Monteith-Farrell of the Public Service Alliance of Canada; Larry Brigham, former chair of the Regional Food Distribution Association of Thunder Bay; Professor Ernie Epp of the History Department at Lakehead University, and Sara Williamson, co-chair of the Thunder Bay Health Coalition.
The Thunder Bay sessions continued Monday evening with a town hall forum at the Lakehead Labour Centre.
Did you read these stats in the above article??? In a study of permanently injured workers in Thunder Bay, the injured workers support group made the following findings:
71 per cent live under the poverty line 42 per cent receive either Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program support 18 per cent receive WSIB benefits 15 per cent are working 63 per cent are depressed 15 per cent have contemplated suicide and 57 per cent of homeless people in Toronto were hurt at work
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