A short while ago my office team was telling me about some improvements to a computer program we use to manage the huge volume of case work that comes through our office. The improvements were predominantly geared to efficiency, streamlining file management and advanced means of file saving and recall. I was very pleased to hear my team finds the program an excellent tool. But there was another feature that they brought to my attention that lets us do comparisons and identifying trends in case work. So, I was looking for what kinds of cases come in most frequently, which ones have particular peaks, which ones recur annually and so on.
It did not by any means surprise me that case work can at times be ‘streaky’ – building up for a while then tapering off once the matter is addressed by the appropriate ministry or agency. One of the things I did note, however, is which issues seem to arise consistently and those which remain active for the longest. I don’t think anyone would be too surprised to learn that my office’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) cases is one of the most consistently opened as well as typically taking the longest to resolve.
Injured workers call our office desperate for assistance with their cases. So many constituents are truly despondent because their cases seems to sit interminably on their WSIB worker’s desk. They wait and wait to receive some sort of assessment, decision or appeal for their claim. And I’m not talking just days or even weeks here. I’m talking over a year! They are quite literally in many cases facing financial ruin for their family. What message are Ontarians receiving about how concerned our government is for our workers who are injured or who are ill from some hazardous workplace conditions? Since I was first elected as MPP, this is one area where there has been little to no improvement by any government.
It is very important to note here that the problem does not lie at the feet of the WSIB frontline workers. WSIB staff report that they themselves are so frustrated trying to work with impossible case loads, knowing their clients are suffering not only from physical pain but from financial and emotional drain. WSIB staff are watching their co-workers burning out all around them. In fact in late March, WSIB staff rallied outside their own office buildings to make the public aware that the Board is not addressing chronic staff shortages. The March 22nd, 2019 edition of The Star indicated that, “a 2018 poll conducted by the union found that 90 percent of the 263 employees surveyed said work-related stress was impacting their personal lives and 92 per cent attributed workload issues to understaffing at the WSIB.” Clearly the government funding or the insurance board is grossly inadequate.
WSIB is supported entirely by premiums paid by employers since they are the ones who need to have insurance to protect their workers. So what is Doug Ford’s solution in addressing the underfunding and staff shortage situation? He cuts employer premiums by a whopping 30 percent. Wouldn’t you love to have your home or car insurance premium drop by 30 percent?
Doug Ford is attacking workers suffering from workplace injury or illness but who are very frequently denied the benefits they need to make ends meet. This payout for big business comes from the elimination of WSIB’s unfunded liability – the difference between its current funding levels and long-term payouts. Instead of making sure vulnerable workers in need of benefits saw those payouts, Ford’s Conservatives chose to reward big business with a premium break instead.
For decades the Worker’s Compensation Board suffered drastic cuts by the Harris Conservatives and subsequent Liberals. Now, it appears that Doug Ford is using the Wynne Liberal playbook by giving employers even more breaks on the premiums they pay to the board. Instead what he should be doing is ensuring workers who get injured at work have benefits to fall back on when they need them.
Now, in what can be considered to be nothing more than a public relations stunt, the Government announced they will be conducting a review of WSIB. They say they will be looking into the board’s financial oversight, administration and efficiency. They plan on comparing their findings to other provinces and private sector insurance companies. But they also say that they are not interested in looking into how WSIB processes claims, sets its benefit levels or makes its decisions.
Upon learning of the planned review, my colleague Wayne Gates, the NDP critic for WSIB, expressed the incensed frustration of thousands of Ontarians including the NDP caucus with the lack of effort to tackle WSIB’s issues. In the Legislature Gates said, “Injured workers have suffered for decades under a WSIB that failed to properly compensate workers who were injured on the job. Within months of taking office, Doug Ford made a bad situation worse, slashing employer contributions by 30 percent, and delivering a kick in the teeth to injured workers who are struggling following serious injuries on the job.”
It’s already clear that this review will not lead to improvements for injured workers. The Ford government has admitted that it could open the door to privatization and cuts, a move that will further disadvantage workers injured or ill because of working conditions. It is concerning that the government wants to mimic practices of the private insurance sector when it comes to protecting injured workers in the province.
Do we really want to have a workers’ insurance system that looks to line the pockets of private companies and investors rather than seeing to the needs of injured workers and their families? From the number of WSIB case intakes our team processes each year, I think the answer is clear.
New Democrats see this review simply as an attempt to claw back support and benefits from vulnerable workers. Is a review necessary? We say, yes, absolutely it is. But what we need is a review that will put the needs of injured and sick workers first and foremost rather than wealthy individuals and corporations.
Ontarians deserve a government that protects the injured and sick workers’ benefits and supports their rights.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.
Michael Mantha MPP/député