Sep 072021
 

Here is a column by Andre Picard at the Globe & Mail. Many injured workers with life long disabilities end up in poverty. This proposed Canada Disability Benefit could make a big difference for these folks. Disability should not mean you have to live in poverty.

All parties should commit to lifting people with disabilities out of poverty

Apr 062021
 

Here is another story about occupational disease.  This one from the States.  Akron, Ohio – the Rubber Capital of the World.

https://publicintegrity.org/health/unintended-consequences-rubber-industry-toxic-legacy-in-akron/

While this story isn’t new to many of us, it is becoming more common in that wider world.  This one links the  health of the workers to the health of the whole community.  It gives us pause to reflect on the cost of “progress”.

Here at home, the story of the Dryden paper mill construction project back in 2002 – 2004, that poisoned over 400 tradesmen.  When the project was being planned, an engineering solution to limit the exposure of the toxic gases was seen as too expensive because it would add another 1% to the overall budget.  I guess another 1% is too much for workers health?

Justice for workers

Sep 062020
 

WorkSafe2: Follow-up investigation into the management of complex workers compensation claims

https://www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/our-impact/investigation-reports/worksafe2-follow-up-investigation-into-the-management-of-complex-workers-compensation-claims/

FROM OMBUDSMAN AUSTRALIA WORKSAFE2 – Follow up Investigation. From the evidence in this report, it would appear that my 2016 investigation only scratched the surface. New issues were also identified in the files we reviewed, and confirmed in interviews, including the use of surveillance without adequate justification. Such an invasion of people’s privacy is only permitted if there is some evidence of worker dishonesty, but we found numerous examples of surveillance being used without a shred of evidence to justify it. Take the case of Sophia, an aged care worker, who had injured her back at work. The agent used surveillance to check her mobility. Even though the surveillance report confirmed she walked with a limp throughout, the agent considered extending it. The surveillance must have been intrusive, as Sophia asked the agent if they were doing it. Even more troublingly, the agent denied it and told her if she had concerns about being followed she should go to the police. We also saw significant evidence of unfair return to work practices: many requiring a worker to attend occupational rehabilitation in wholly unsuitable circumstances, such as the man experiencing severe psychotic hallucinations, or the homeless man in hospital after attempting self-harm, and whose non-compliance notice was sent to the residential address he had been obliged to leave despite knowing he was homeless. “For the injured worker, it’s like a court. They’re traumatised, they’re stressed … they’re the only person in the room not paid to be there …” Conciliation Officer The workers affected in the cases we reviewed included nurses, teachers, police officers, aged care and childcare workers, truck drivers, baggage handlers and tradesmen. The emotional toll was unequivocal; the cost not only to them and their families, but to society, should not be underestimated. Many of the decisions and actions we saw were not only unjust, unreasonable and wrong. Some were downright immoral and unethical.

Aug 212020
 

Next Tuesday, John McKinnon, IWC, will be leading the session on Injured Workers turning 65, regarding loss of income and poverty.  John is a lawyer at Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic with decades of experience in Workers’ Comp Law.

We will also look at ONIWG’s Workers Comp Is a Right campaign, which is celebrating its 3rd anniversary in September.  We continue to fight for an end to deeming and pre-existing health conditions and the need to listen to treating physicians.  

The Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers Support Group (TB&DIWSG) is pleased to announce their partnership with the United Steelworkers Family and Community Education Fund (FCEF) in coordination with Northwestern Ontario Steelworkers Area Council in the sponsorship of our weekly legal education and support group sessions online until December 1st.

Please note that we will be setting up a new session so the sign-in info will change, beginning September 1st.

Everyone is invited to attend.   We hope to see you on Tuesday.   Janet PatersonPresidentThunder Bay & District Injured Workers Support Group Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG)  Janet Paterson is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting. Topic: My MeetingTime: Aug 25, 2020 10:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)        Every week on Tue, until Aug 25, 2020, 1 occurrence(s)        Aug 25, 2020 10:00 AMPlease download and import the following iCalendar (.ics) files to your calendar system.

Weekly: https://zoom.us/meeting/tJUtcOGtqT4qEtWRydDXztXwePqG7HTw6Dqi/ics?icsToken=98tyKuCprjwiH9OQsBGGRowcAo_CWe_wtiVfj7dqrgbhJxhJdjvhM9JTFeVXJM-G Join Zoom Meetinghttps://zoom.us/j/91078575081?pwd=cm5nRVRQMEcvNU9PWmgzQXBGY0toZz09 Meeting ID: 910 7857 5081Passcode: 279030One tap mobile+16473744685,,91078575081#,,,,,,0#,,279030# Canada+16475580588,,91078575081#,,,,,,0#,,279030# Canada Dial by your location        +1 647 374 4685 Canada        +1 647 558 0588 Canada        +1 778 907 2071 Canada        +1 204 272 7920 Canada        +1 438 809 7799 Canada        +1 587 328 1099 CanadaMeeting ID: 910 7857 5081Passcode: 279030Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/acURTh2YZu

Aug 162020
 

WorkSafe2: Follow-up investigation into the management of complex workers compensation claims

OMBUDSMAN AUSTRALIA WORKSAFE2 – Follow up Investigation.From the evidence in this report, it would appear that my 2016 investigation only scratched the surface. New issues were also identified in the files we reviewed, and confirmed in interviews, including the use of surveillance without adequate justification. Such an invasion of people’s privacy is only permitted if there is some evidence of worker dishonesty, but we found numerous examples of surveillance being used without a shred of evidence to justify it. Take the case of Sophia, an aged care worker, who had injured her back at work. The agent used surveillance to check her mobility. Even though the surveillance report confirmed she walked with a limp throughout, the agent considered extending it. The surveillance must have been intrusive, as Sophia asked the agent if they were doing it. Even more troublingly, the agent denied it and told her if she had concerns about being followed she should go to the police.We also saw significant evidence of unfair return to work practices: many requiring a worker to attend occupational rehabilitation in wholly unsuitable circumstances, such as the man experiencing severe psychotic hallucinations, or the homeless man in hospital after attempting self-harm, and whose non-compliance notice was sent to the residential address he had been obliged to leave despite knowing he was homeless.“For the injured worker, it’s like a court. They’re traumatised, they’re stressed … they’re the only person in the room not paid to be there …”Conciliation OfficerThe workers affected in the cases we reviewed included nurses, teachers, police officers, aged care and childcare workers, truck drivers, baggage handlers and tradesmen. The emotional toll was unequivocal; the cost not only to them and their families, but to society, should not be underestimated. Many of the decisions and actions we saw were not only unjust, unreasonable and wrong. Some were downright immoral and unethical.

https://www.ombudsman.vic.gov.au/our-impact/investigation-reports/worksafe2-follow-up-investigation-into-the-management-of-complex-workers-compensation-claims/

Aug 122020
 

Here’s an excellent article by Sara Mojtehedzadeh and Jennifer Yang focusing on a major COVID-19 outbreak in an industrial bakery in Toronto.  They use this story to illustrate the woeful lack of consistent data on workplace outbreaks, plus the apparent massive under-reporting to MOL and WSIB.   

The article also highlights the vulnerability of the workers in these types of workplaces, including temporary agency workers in particular.

More than 180 workers at this Toronto bakery got COVID-19 — but the public wasn’t informed. Why aren’t we being told about workplace outbreaks?

https://www.thestar.com/business/2020/08/10/more-than-180-workers-at-this-toronto-bakery-got-covid-19-but-the-public-wasnt-informed-why-arent-we-being-told-about-workplace-outbreaks.html

Jul 252020
 

Demers report on occupational cancer requires immediate action to review denied cancer claims, says Ontario Federation of Labour

July 23, 2020

Workers and family members affected by occupational cancers are not surprised by the Demers report findings that well over 90% of occupational cancers are unrecognized and uncompensated by the WSIB every year. Only a fraction result in WSIB claims, and more than one-half of those claims are denied, very often based on technicalities that are not supported by legal principles or medical science.  The Demers report also showed that Ontario is recognizing far less occupational cancer than a number of European countries such as Germany.

“This is an urgent situation.  It has devastating consequences for the affected workers and their families, many of whom end up on social assistance.  It also imposes very significant costs on the taxpayer which should properly be paid by employers through the WSIB. The WSIB must take action immediately,” said Ontario Federation of Labour President Patty Coates.

By Labour Day, WSIB must implement policy recommendations regarding the adjudication of cancer claims involving exposures to multiple carcinogens and begin a review of all previously denied occupational cancer claims. The provincial government must also add to the schedules under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act all of the carcinogens identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as carcinogenic to humans. In the longer term, the government must move beyond the scope of Dr. Demers’ mandate to restore an independent Occupational Disease Panel and require the WSIB to apply standards set by the Panel when adjudicating disease claims. It must also fully fund the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers to provide timely investigations of occupational disease clusters at the request of workers and surviving family members.

“Failure to recognize occupational diseases not only harms those workers making claims, it harms future prevention efforts,” said Coates.

The Demers report was first promised by the outgoing Liberal government in the spring of 2018, following years of activism by workers and family members affected by the extensive confirmed carcinogenic exposures at the GE Peterborough facility.  The current PC government followed through on that promise only in January 2019, after renewed activism by former Kitchener area rubber workers and their families highlighted that the WSIB remains completely out of step with advances in scientific research.

In the meantime, including the last six months while the report sat on a shelf at the Ministry of Labour, hundreds of workers have received WSIB denial letters for new and reconsidered occupational cancer claims that include the promise of another review after the release of the Demers report.

“It is now clear from the report itself that hundreds, even thousands, more claims have been unjustly denied in the past and require urgent review,” said Coates. “The WSIB must act immediately on the recommendation to create new policies addressing exposure to multiple carcinogens in the workplace and the interaction between occupational and non-occupational exposures.

The WSIB has long pretended that “lifestyle” issues like smoking, alcohol and obesity somehow magically counteract workplace carcinogens, despite scientific findings that multiple carcinogens nearly always act together, sometimes synergistically. The same goes for a “family history” of cancer, which with very few exceptions must be considered nothing more than one factor in a complex picture, interacting with exposure to carcinogens. The WSIB must stop looking for easy “either-or” technicalities and start dealing with the complex realities of “both-and”.

By Labour Day, the WSIB can and must put Interim policies addressing multiple exposures and the interaction of occupational and non-occupational causes into the hands of its adjudicators, and suspend all existing policies on individual diseases with inappropriate treatments of these issues and other arbitrary considerations such as specified latency periods between exposures and the onset of disease.

And finally, the provincial government must also add all of the carcinogens identified by the IARC as carcinogenic to humans to the schedules under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA).  These are known as IARC Group 1 carcinogens.  Many of these substances have been known to be carcinogenic for literally decades and yet never added to the WSIB’s schedules.  This action does not require a legislative amendment.  The provincial cabinet can do this simply by amending the regulations to the WSIA.

The Board must review all previously denied cancer claims in light of these new policies and overturn decisions that failed to properly address multiple carcinogens in the workplace, or to recognize the interaction rather than competition between occupational and non-occupational factors or which have been invalidated by new research.

This process cannot wait for the rebuilding of scientific and medical capacity at the WSIB and Ministry of Labour recommended by the report. Clear errors can and must be corrected without further delay, and the identification of outstanding issues raised by these reports of occupational cancer from Ontario workers must direct the future use of that renewed capacity. Failure to recognize occupational diseases not only harms those workers making claims, it harms future prevention efforts.

In the longer term, regulation- and policy-making must change in ways beyond anything contemplated by Dr. Demers’ mandate from the Ministry. The WSIB’s terrible performance results from the tangle of conflicting statutory duties and political interests created by its roles as legislator, adjudicator, benefit and service provider, revenue collector and investment fund manager. Ontario must restore a fully funded, independent Occupational Disease Panel with worker, employer and scientific representation, focussed exclusively on establishing fair criteria for evaluating compensation claims. This Panel must have clear, exclusive jurisdiction to establish those criteria, with the WSIB bound to implement them. The Board can no longer be allowed to make up its own rules as it goes along.

The same goes for the investigation of cancer clusters. Neither the Board nor the Ministry can be trusted to handle what are effectively complaints about the failure to prevent occupational cancers in a particular workplace or industry or to fairly compensate affected workers who have come forward on an individual basis. Historically, scientific and medical resources of both Board and Ministry were often wasted, as in Peterborough, in efforts to convince workers and families that they should not believe their eyes, that cancer clusters did not exist, were not as big as they seemed, or when looked at case-by-case by the WSIB were not caused by exposures in the workplace. In other cases, such as silicosis or cancer in Elliot Lake uranium miners or asbestos workers in Sarnia, information about disease clusters confirmed and documented by Ministry scientists was more likely to be shared at international scientific conferences or in journal articles than with the affected workers, their doctors and unions.

In these instances and many more, those directly affected have turned to the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) for independent occupational hygiene and medical assessments of workplace exposures and their relationship to cancers and other diseases. Workers deserve independent assessments of suspected clusters and their own individual health conditions as a matter of basic health care, provided as a professional service directly to them and not exclusively as a sidelight of the commercial, legal and political projects of employers, politicians and bureaucrats.

OHCOW is the only actor in the health and safety system that has the expertise and credibility with workers to pursue investigations of occupational disease clusters, but is not fully funded to respond quickly and comprehensively. That needs to change and change fast.

The Ontario Federation of Labour represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. For information, visit www.OFL.ca and follow @OFLabour on Facebook and Twitter.

Jul 032020
 

Media Release

June 26, 2020

Income Security Advocacy Centre and Parkdale Community Legal Services welcome the Supreme Court’s landmark decision for gig workers

Toronto: In a ground-breaking decision released this morning, the Supreme Court of Canada made it easier for workers to challenge unfair contractual terms imposed by companies that hire them, whether or not they are in a formal employment relationship. The court sided with Uber drivers and reached a decision that addresses the concerns about access to justice highlighted by ISAC and PCLS in their submission before the court.

Today’s decision in Uber Technologies Inc. v. Heller is a win for drivers who were forced to accept a standard “mandatory arbitration agreement” when they signed up on the Uber app. According to Uber, this meant that the drivers could no longer go to court or the Ministry of Labour with workplace disputes. Instead, they would have to go before a private decision-maker in Amsterdam, in a process that is both secret and expensive. In a 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court decided that the agreement could not stand, and the drivers could go ahead with a class action to determine whether they are employees.

“ISAC and PCLS teamed up to intervene in the case to argue that workers’ right to seek justice in our public institutions cannot be signed away or privatized,” said Nabila Qureshi, staff lawyer at ISAC who provided oral arguments before the Supreme Court. “Otherwise, employers can sidestep laws that guarantee workers’ rights.”

In siding with Uber workers, a majority of the judges held that the mandatory arbitration agreement was unfair, or “unconscionable”. “The court recognized that Uber is in an unequal relationship with its drivers,” Qureshi added. “Companies cannot use this power imbalance to strip workers of their rights under the guise of an ‘agreement’”. 

“This decision strengthens protections for workers who may be taken advantage of by the companies that hire them,” said John No, staff lawyer at PCLS. “To show that an agreement was unconscionable and therefore invalid, a worker will no longer be required to prove that their employer knowingly took advantage of the worker’s vulnerable status. This is an important victory for workers.”

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, previously undervalued workers, like farm workers, food delivery ‘gig’ workers, and cleaners, have been recognized as essential to our community and achieved important gains,” No added. “But like grocery stores that cancelled pandemic pay, employers still have great power over workers. To have a more just and fair society, we need to transform working conditions and the systems that allow for exploitation.”

In an earlier decision in this case, the Court of Appeal for Ontario had found that mandatory arbitration agreements imposed by employers are always illegal because they violate Ontario’s Employment Standards Act. The Supreme Court did not disagree with that ruling, but left that issue to be determined on another day.  

Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) is a community legal clinic with a mandate to advance the systemic interests and rights of low-income Ontarians around income security programs and low-wage precarious employment.

Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS) serves low income residents of Parkdale and Swansea neighbourhoods in Toronto. Since its founding in 1971, PCLS has advised and represented thousands of employees and former employees against their employers.