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.

May 202020
 

As we continue to adjust to our ongoing office closure, Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic will begin having online town hall/education events about pressing issues related to Workers Compensation. 

We will kick things off next Wednesday, May 27th at 3pm, with a session titled:

COVID-19 Crisis – Is WSIB there for the injured?
Presented by IWC staff, along with injured workers and allies. 
Coronavirus has created all kinds of new expenses for Injured Workers, but the WSIB isn’t paying for increased grocery costs, safer travel expenses, or PPE. Join us for a town hall-style event to discuss WSIB’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and what you can do about it.

Interested participants are encouraged to register for the Town Hall here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/iwc-covid

Joining through CrowdCast will allow people to interact with each other and ask the presenters questions. 

If people are not keen to sign up formally, it will also be streamed on YouTube at:  https://youtu.be/-zw0iqOmXsc

Posters are attached. Thanks! 

Apr 072020
 

To download and read the OFL letter to the government on Worker’s Compensation for COVID-19, click here.

To download and read the OFL proposal to the Ontario government regarding COVID-19 details, click here.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/04/06/province-urged-to-make-workers-compensation-automatic-for-essential-employees-diagnosed-with-covid-19.html

Province urged to make workers’ compensation automatic for essential employees diagnosed with COVID-19

By Sara Mojtehedzadeh, Work and Wealth Reporter

Worker advocates are urging the province to change worker compensation laws to make it easier for health-care and other essential workers infected with COVID-19 to access benefits, according to a new letter seen by the Star.

It comes as the provincial workers’ compensation board has received some 450 benefit claims from workers who believe they contracted the virus on the job over the past month, the Star has learned. The board has also received some 200 reports from employers of potential workplace exposures to COVID-19.

The letter, sent Friday to Premier Doug Ford and Ontario’s ministers of labour and health, outlines “vital” proposals needed to protect the province’s essential workers, including “thousands of vulnerable non-unionized workers performing essential services.”

“These workers are risking their health and for some, their lives, by carrying out their work responsibilities,” says the letter from Ontario Federation of Labour President Patty Coates, and signed by 26 unions, legal clinics and injured-worker advocates.

“To do this, they must be confident that if they become sick from COVID-19 or must be isolated due to occupational exposure to this virus, they will have the full protection of the workers’ compensation system.”

Ontario workers are entitled to benefits and income replacement if their workplace played a significant role in their accident or illness. In most cases if a worker gets sick or hurt on the job, they must prove to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board that it was work-related to be eligible for benefits, including income replacement.

But in light of the pandemic, advocates are urging the government to legislate automatic entitlement to workers’ compensation for essential workers diagnosed with COVID-19.

The proposed changes would create a so-called non-rebuttable presumption that the virus was contracted on the job, the letter says. Current laws encode this presumption for a select list of diseases where there is a high degree of scientific certainty that the illness was caused by workplace exposure.

The letter calls for the new measure to cover health-care workers, first responders and other essential workers who come into contact with the public, such as those in child care, transit, retail and delivery.

“Cabinet could make these changes in a few days if it wished to do so,” the letter says.

In an emailed statement, Bradley Metlin, spokesperson for Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton, said government had “taken decisive action to support workers,” including job-protected leaves, beefing up inspections and doubling the number of phone agents at the ministry’s health and safety call centre.

“Minister McNaughton has been on the phone every day with labour leaders, businesses and, most importantly, workers. Their advice has been essential in our effort to keep workers safe during this difficult time,” the statement said.

“The premier has been clear that every option is on the table, and our government is prepared to take further action as required.”

As it stands, the WSIB is making decisions on COVID-19 claims on a case-by-case basis.

“We have great concerns with that policy,” said Janet Paterson, president of the Ontario Network of Injured Worker Groups.

“(Essential workers) should be able to feel confident that they are going to be taken care of.”

WSIB spokesperson Christine Arnott said the board has created a “dedicated team working through COVID-19-related claims as quickly as possible.

“We know this is a difficult time for people. We have moved quickly to deliver services remotely, including managing active claims, processing new claims and answering phones. We will do everything we can to help so people can focus on their loved ones and always on their health and safety,” she said.

Advocates are also calling for workers’ compensation coverage to extend to “independent operators” or self-employed workers — like those in the gig economy — who may not be covered.

Some gig employers, such as food-delivery service Foodora, do pay into the workers’ compensation system. But the letter sent Friday notes that “many workers who may put themselves at risk by contact with the public do not have workers’ compensation protection, either because they work in a non-covered sector of the economy or have been treated as independent operators.”

“Finally, we need to protect community volunteers who step up to help others and become ill or need to be isolated,” the letter adds. (Recently, the province enacted new emergency measures that allow hospitals to override collective agreements to draft in volunteer help).

Access to workers’ compensation benefits — which are funded by employer premiums — could provide an alternate support system to employment insurance and government-funded emergency benefits, which have been inundated with applications.

According to its policy document on COVID-19, the WSIB is making entitlement decisions based on factors like whether the nature of the work puts people at risk of contact with the virus, as well as whether workers have personal protective gear — a mounting concern given existing shortages.

Jessica Ponting, a community legal worker with the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario, said the board also needs to provide other assurances to injured workers amidst the pandemic.

Most at risk, she said, are those who were already off work because of a severe injury and may now be facing layoff.

“The board is basically presuming it’s a temporary layoff. That’s a problem because when people do start to get hired back, I think there’s a lot of discrimination against people with disabilities,” she said.

“The board needs to assume at least for now that it’s a permanent layoff,” she added.                                                                                                 

That would allow for a continuation of benefits for injured workers who may have enough work hours to qualify for employment insurance.

The WSIB recently announced a $1.9-billion relief package for businesses that will allow them to defer premium payments until August.

Paterson said she wants to see similar relief programs for injured workers — including an end to the practice known as deeming, which is when the board deems an injured worker capable of returning to work, identifies jobs they could theoretically do, and slashes their benefits accordingly.

“We realize businesses are very much getting impacted,” Paterson said.

“But injured workers are supposed to be the number one focus of the workers’ compensation system. And we feel like, where are we?”

Oct 172019
 

Source: http://rankandfile.ca/occupy-ford-no-more-workplace-deaths/

By Anna Bianca Roach (@annabiancaroach)

Today, Oct. 17, at 14:45, a group of  40 activists gathered in front of Ontario Premier Ford’s office in Etobicoke. By the time they had arrived, ten people had already entered Ford’s office to occupy it. They were there to demand that the government take responsibility for the five deaths at Fiera Foods, one of North America’s most important food suppliers. 

In Early October Enrico Miranda, a 57-year-old who was crushed by machinery while working for Fiera Foods. Less than a year ago, another worker was killed when he was pinned between a tractor trailer and the loading dock at Upper Crust, one of a group of companies owned by Fiera Foods. In 2016, Amina Diaby, was killed when a conveyor belt caught a piece of her clothing and she became entangled in an unguarded machine. 
“We’re here today because we’re outraged and we’re in grief. There have been five temp agency workers killed at Fiera Foods, and two have died on the job under Doug Ford’s watch,” Pam Frache told RankandFile.ca. The action was organized by Workers’ Action Centre, Jane Finch Action Against Poverty and the Ontario Federation of Labour with the support of many community and labour groups. 

On the day of Miranda’s death, other workers received no breaks, and work continued on as usual. When community and labour groups held a vigil for Miranda outside Fiera Foods, management cancelled shifts, after an outcry Fiera Foods was forced to pay workers for those shifts.

Cuts kill workers 

The protestors at the occupation highlighted the inaction of Ford’s Conservative government, which has been avoiding the media for the last four weeks. Advocates for decent work have noted that Ford passed legislation removing the equal pay for equal work protections in the Employment Standards Act, which had incentivized employers to move away from using temp agencies. Temp agency workers have less rights, protections and power in the workplace and that is why Fiera Foods hires 70 percent of its workers using temp agencies.  

“We’re stuck in a system where employers like Fiera Foods aren’t held responsible for workers who die in their workplaces. And that’s what this action is about today,” says Fred Hahn, the President for CUPE Ontario. 
When workers hired through temp agencies are injured or killed on the job, it is the temp agency which is held responsible and see their WSIB premiums increase. But since temp agencies are fluid, closing up shop and reopening under a new name, there is little accountability. The reality is, temp agencies are a mechanism used by employers like Fiera Foods to avoid taking any responsibility and to avoid paying higher WSIB premiums when workers are killed or injured in their workplace. Temp agencies are a convenient way to offload risk, allowing employers to get away with not  paying WSIB premiums or not ensuring safety in their workplace. 

“As it stands right now, workers are often treated as disposable. And we know temp agency workers are far more likely to die on the job,” said Frache. 

Advocates in front of Premier Ford’s office highlighted that the mechanisms to ensure worker safety already exists, and would be easy to implement. Section 83(4) of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, would make companies using temp agencies financially responsible under WSIB for workplace deaths and injuries. It was was passed in December 2017 but has yet to be enacted. 

“All that was needed was a regulation. That regulation has been drafted, and so far the premier has refused to enact it,” said Rabbi Shalom Schachter of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition  “This was a very easy step for them to take.” 

Occupying Ford’s office

At the time of the action, Ford was absent from his office. Ten activists arrived at 2:30pm and entered the office, beginning an indefinite occupation. Staff locked the doors to Ford’s office and called law enforcement almost immediately. Half an hour after the beginning of the protest, police arrived. Nobody except for law enforcement has entered or exited the building since. 

“[Temp agency workers] are low-income, often racialized, migrant workers. One death is too many,” Simran Dhunna, a Fight for $15 and Fairness organizers, told the crowd before leading chants. “All Doug Ford has to do is come out here, sign [section 83(4) of the WSIA], and implement it.”

While Ford’s Conservative government delays enacting life-saving legislation, it has announced today that it will be giving its ministers a 14 percent salary hike. 

This news comes as a slap in the face to people everywhere who have been protesting cuts that continue forcing low income people, people of colour, and migrants like the temp agency workers who died working for Fiera Foods, into increased precarity.

Deena Ladd, an organizer with the Workers’ Action Centre and one of the occupiers, phoning into the press conference from inside the now locked office said, “Doug Ford says he’s for the people, but that’s bullshit!”

The occupation is still on-going, follow @rankandfileca for live updates, if you are in the GTA consider stopping by to show support, 823 Albion Road, Etobicoke. 

Aug 182019
 

By Gerald

This is how governments should function by standing up and fighting for workers, not like provincial governments that are complicit in protecting their sacred cows known as worker compensation boards. I watched a documentary involving workers in Peterborough Ontario who were denied and still being denied workers compensation by WSIB due to occupational diseases while employed at General Electric. Click on the following link:

https://www.workerscompensation.com/news_read.php?id=33420

Nov 252018
 

From Injured Workers Online:

Workers’ compensation: morality versus the business case

The experience of being injured at work and claiming workers’ compensation can greatly influence injured workers’ possibilities for rehabilitation and successful return to work. A new study examines why some claims are prolonged, conflicted and frequently associated with confrontational interactions between Ontario workers and others in the compensation system including employers and workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WCB/WSIB) staff. A doctoral thesis  by Dana Howse – Injured Workers’ Moral Engagement in the Compensation System: The Social Production of Problematic Claiming Experience (University of Toronto, Nov. 2017) – examines claiming from the perspective of injured workers in Ontario who have experienced difficult claims.

Her study points to radically different views of our workers’ compensation system. Based on interviews with injured workers, advocates and health care providers, she found that these injured workers experienced and understood the workers’ compensation system in moral terms: they see workers’ compensation as part of our justice system and evaluate experiences in terms of what is just and unjust, fair and unfair. However, the WSIB’s texts and practices reflected a neo-liberal view of the system where the goals are administrative and financial cost efficiency and policies and procedures are created or changed to achieve them. To move forward and  improve circumstances for injured workers with difficult claims, Dr. Howse suggests the WSIB reconsider its practices and the way its understanding of workers’ compensation is seen by injured workers…  [read ONIWG commentary and Plain language summary and full thesis]

  • Presentation Dec. 7, 10 a.m. EST:  Dr Howse will be discussing her study Friday December 7th  – sign in to the live stream at ONIWG’s Facebook 
    (If you don’t see the streaming video when you arrive at the page, wait a few minutes and try refreshing the page)
Nov 142018
 

By Gerald

Click on the following link:
https://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/news-story/9029941-after-nearly-24-year-wait-wsib-approves-claim-in-1995-cancer-death-of-general-electric-peterborough-worker/

This is a long standing claim that was reviewed and accepted after 24
years. Questionably is why it took 24 years to be accepted when the
courts have determined that claims do not have to be based on scientific
evidence. Claims are to be determined based on a contributing factor
which according to the courts range from a trivial contributing factor
to a probable factor. If there is no evidence to the contrary, the claim
remains in a neutral state and the benefit of doubt by law has to go to
the worker.

If in fact the NDP would honor the commitment made by the former
Conservative Government and open up all long standing claims, most if
not all of the claims would be accepted based on adjudicating the claims
on a lesser standard than the civil law standard that has been used
illegally by the Alberta WCB and the Appeals Commission.

Aug 172018
 

This is a media item that gives a good sense of the human reality in Peterborough right now.  With a tremendous collective effort by many people who worked at GE, their families and many activists and supporters, a significant number of claims have been won.  But even more have been denied on reconsideration.  So there is much work to do.

WSIB is a nightmare, say former Peterborough GE workers and families