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Mourn the dead, fight for the living

Rachel Gnanayutham

April 29, 2018

Every year, the Day of Mourning on April 28 is reserved to remember the many workers who have been killed, injured, or made ill as a result of their work. This best encapsulated by the Day of Mourning slogan “mourn for the dead, fight for the living”. So it is a day to honour the workers who did not return home or safely home due to a workplace incident.

It is also a day to renew our commitment to fight for workers who continue to be exposed to unsafe, hazardous, and toxic workplaces. An aspect of this commitment surrounds the fight for those who have been injured at work and are struggling for fair compensation for their injuries.

For injured workers, the fight for the living surrounds the call and action for a compensation system that treats them with fairness, dignity and provides for means to go on living in the midst of struggle, pain and economic loss. They are fighting to fix a broken workers’ compensation system. From 2009 to 2015, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) cut total benefits to injured workers by nearly $1.16 billion, a 33% reduction over the six-year period.

The cuts were fuelled by a free-market based approach that intends to minimize business costs by means of cutting compensation to injured workers. The result is economic and social despair faced by injured workers as told by a 2015 study that found 46% of injured workers with a permanent disability were living at or near the poverty line, with 9% living in deep poverty. WSIB cut benefits to 38% of them despite being unable to return to employment since they were injured. Refusing to be held captive under this agenda, injured workers are rising up, fighting, standing up for a fair compensation system.

A transformative campaign was launched in September 2017 by the Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups (ONIWG), an umbrella organization of injured worker groups in communities spread throughout the province. The Workers’ Comp is a Right campaign is calling for action on three key demands:

1. No cuts based on phantom jobs

2. Listen to injured workers’ treating healthcare professionals

3. Stop cutting benefits based on pre-existing conditions

These demands reflect the fight against cutbacks, poverty, social exclusion and injustice. The campaign grows as it organizes injured workers and their allies, raising awareness among the public and pressuring those in power to take a step in reforming a broken workers’ compensation system.

The campaign stands rooted in the historical principles laid during the time the Ontario Workers’ Compensation Act came in to being. Remarkably, the date, April 28, was chosen in 1984, when the Canadian Labour Congress set the day to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the day the first Ontario Worker’s Compensation Act was approved by the government in 1914.

Injured workers remember the historical purpose of this Act, a system designed to support injured workers for as long as their disabilities lasted. This was so that they would not become a burden to themselves, their families or to society, so that their dignity and integrity would be guarded even during times of weakness and loss and so that justice and fairness would be served with no half measures.

Injured workers and allies are fighting because they refuse to accept the current broken workers’ compensation system. Workers’ Compensation is a Right and is an integral part of the fight for the living!

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