WSIB ordered to rectify historical injustice against injured migrant workers

TORONTO, Sept. 22, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Migrant farmworkers have long called the WSIB’s practice of ending compensation to migrants outrageous, xenophobic and deeply unjust. Last week, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal agreed.

The Tribunal ruled that WSIB has been illegally reducing compensation of racialized injured migrant workers for decades. The victory is part of a long struggle by farmworkers and their advocates for justice for migrant workers injured in Ontario’s workplaces.

In an extensive ruling that took official notice of the institutional racism that migrant farm workers face, the Tribunal determined that the WSIB’s practice of ending compensation to migrant farm workers was illegal, and reinstated Loss of Earnings compensation to a group of four permanently injured migrant workers from Jamaica.

The ruling stems from a WSIB practice that reduces partially injured migrant workers’ Loss of Earnings benefits after 12 weeks by pretending they can earn income from suitable work in Ontario even though such work is not available to injured migrants.

Leroy Thomas is one of the appellants. As a participant on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), Thomas left his young family in Jamaica to work the fields in Ontario for up to 8 months a year. In 2017, he suffered a permanent back injury that ended his 16 year career in Ontario.

The WSIB knew that Thomas could not come back to work in Ontario with his injury, but cut his benefits as if he could. It told Thomas that, if he could still work in Ontario, he could restore his income with his disability by getting a job as a parking lot attendant. It ended his Loss of Earnings compensation shortly after his injury as if he was working that job.

The WSIB’s practice forced Thomas, and injured migrant workers like him, into poverty with no realistic way of restoring their income in Jamaica with their injuries. Thomas started to organize with Justice for Migrant Workers and Injured Workers Action for Justice to press the WSIB for changes. He also appealed his case with three other injured migrant workers.

In their landmark decision, the Tribunal said that WSIB must provide meaningful retraining and/or compensation based on the individual circumstances and labour market realities that migrant workers face in their home countries. In doing so, it determined that migrant workers are entitled to the same interpretation of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act as other Ontario workers.


“It’s been a long time coming and a rough road for us migrant workers when we pick up an injury and cannot come back or work and provide for our families. Justice served by the Tribunal can help other workers so that they don’t go through what we’ve been though. We’ve been treated very dishonestly by WSIB,” says Leroy Thomas.

“The WSIB’s failure to apply the law to migrant workers is rooted in the xenophobic and a racist belief that injured migrant workers are disposable and their injuries are not worthy of compensation. This ruling unequivocally tells WSIB that they are wrong,” says Chris Ramsaroop, from Justice for Migrant Workers.

"[T]here is no basis in the statute or binding policy to limit the LOE benefits of injured seasonal agricultural workers to 12 weeks of long-term LOE benefits without consideration of their actual circumstances, including their labour market in their home countries." – Tribunal Panel R. McCutcheon: Chair, D. Thomson: Member Representative of Employers, M. Tzaferis: Member Representative of Workers

Organization Profile and Contacts:

IAVGO Community Legal Clinic represents Leroy Thomas and other workers in the appeal. IAVGO is a legal clinic funded by Legal Aid Ontario and fights for the rights of injured workers, including migrant and precarious workers.

This work was done with the support of Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) and Injured Workers Action for Justice (IWA4J). J4MW is a volunteer-based, grassroots organization based in Ontario and BC that promotes the rights of migrant workers both locally and transnationally. IWA4J is a group of injured workers and their supporters fighting for respect and fairness from the WSIB.


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