WSIB is using the minimum wage to cut injured worker benefits Government must step in to prevent disaster

TORONTO, Jan. 08, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- On January 1st, Ontario delivered a long overdue increase to minimum wage – a move that is justifiably being celebrated by workers across the province. However, there is one group of particularly vulnerable workers who, because of heavy handed measures by the province’s compensation board, will be hard hit by the change – those who have been permanently injured on the job.

It may come as a surprise to many Ontarians that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) engages in a practice called ‘deeming,’ in which the Board literally pretends that permanently injured workers have jobs when they don’t, and reduces compensation by the imagined wages of that phantom job. This applies even when the injured worker is actively trying to find a job that they can do with their injury, but is unable to do so. When the minimum wage goes up, the WSIB plans to pretend that these permanently injured workers are getting a raise from their non-existent jobs. It should be noted that the WSIB is in no way legally required to do this, and that during past minimum wage increases, it has opted not to use the worker-friendly policy as a self-serving cost saving mechanism.

The WSIB has announced that “for people who are not employed,” it will phase in the benefit cut over several years. Those who have been deemed in minimum wage jobs that they are not working will now face a significant annual reduction to their already meager benefits, even though they are not earning more money. “For injured workers who are already living in poverty,” says Willy Noiles, president of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups (ONIWG), “it means that every year until 2020, many of us will be progressively less able to pay our hydro bills, heating bills, telephone bills, and put food on the table for our families.”

“This is absurd and legally unnecessary,” says advocate David Newberry from Injured Workers Consultants Community Legal Clinic, “but it is merely a symptom of a much deeper problem, which is that the WSIB – as a matter of policy – pretends that injured workers have jobs and earnings that they do not in fact have.” Newberry also notes that workers with permanent injuries face significant barriers to employment, and that “the Board’s assumption that Ontarians with disabilities are just as able to find full-time work as everyone else is simply out of touch with what we know about the labour market.”

“It is shameful for the WSIB to use a measure designed to help workers in Ontario to harm those who have sacrificed their health and well-being for the good of our province, but it is just the tip of the iceberg,” concludes ONIWG’s Noiles, “the bigger problem is the deeming practice as a whole. The WSIB needs to stop pretending people have phantom jobs that don’t exist, and start compensating people for their actual lost wages.”

For more information, please contact:

Willy Noiles, ONIWG President