McGuinty Government Introduces Reforms To Help Injured Workers



    Measures Introduced in Ontario Budget Would Increase Benefits,
    Assure Fairness, and Improve Access

    TORONTO, March 29 /CNW/ - The McGuinty Government is committed to helping
injured workers through benefit increases and other reforms to the Workplace
Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA), introduced in the 2007 Ontario budget that
will assure fairness, access, and flexibility, Labour Minister Steve Peters
said today.
    "We are taking a significant step in creating a brighter future for some
of Ontario's injured workers," said Peters, "Reforms to the compensation
system introduced in our budget will provide these workers with the dignity
and respect they so deserve."

    Measures introduced in the budget, if passed, would:

    
    -   Provide a 2.5 per cent increase in compensation benefits in each of
        three consecutive years starting July 1, 2007, for recipients
        receiving partial benefits
    -   Help injured workers retain benefits when work they could perform
        after rehabilitation is not available
    -   Allow a review of benefits for some workers who suffer a temporary or
        permanent deterioration in their condition once their benefit level
        is fixed 72 months after injury
    -   Give workers who reach the age of 65 greater financial control
        through a lump sum payment in lieu of monthly payments in cases where
        a recipient's loss of retirement income benefits would be less than
        $3,000 a year
    -   Provide greater representation on the Workplace Safety and Insurance
        Board (WSIB) Board of Directors by increasing the size of the board
        and clarify that the positions of Chair and President are separate.

    "Our government is doing more to help injured workers who have been denied
any real increase for 12 years," Peters added. "Since 1995, inflation has
risen by almost 29 per cent, while benefits have increased by only 2.9 per
cent. Our proposal for a 7.5 per cent increase would, in just a year and a
half, more than double the increase seen over 12 years."
    A new section of the WSIA would authorize Ontario's Lieutenant Governor in
Council to make regulations providing a temporary cost of living adjustment to
workers' compensation benefits in any calendar year.
    Further to these proposed legislative changes is the addition of $810,000
a year in ongoing funding to the Office of the Worker Adviser (OWA). The OWA
helps educate, advise, and represent non-union workers in complex workplace
safety and insurance matters. The additional funding would allow the OWA to
improve and expand services to injured workers and their survivors.
    The proposed enhancements follow a series of reviews of the WSIB. In
February 2004 the Ontario government ordered a third party audit to assess and
recommend improvements to the WSIB. A follow-up audit found significant
progress has been made to ensure the stability and efficiency of the WSIB.
    The proposed changes to the WSIA would be funded through the WSIB.
    "Workplace injuries often have a devastating effect on both the economic
and social well-being of workers and their families," Peters said. "We are
acting to recognize these injured workers for their patience."

    Public Inquiries:
    Toll Free 1-800-387-5540

    Disponible en français

                             www.labour.gov.on.ca


    Backgrounder

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

                 Improving Fairness, Access, and Flexibility
                 in the Workplace Safety and Insurance System
    

    TORONTO-The McGuinty Government is committed to helping injured workers
and ensuring they are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect. Amendments
to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) in the recently announced
Ontario budget are part of the government's overall plan to help injured
workers.
    The proposed changes will increase Workplace Safety and Insurance Board
(WSIB) benefits and provide greater fairness and flexibility to the workplace
safety and insurance system for injured workers.

    Benefit Increases

    The budget provides a 2.5 per cent increase in WSIB benefits in each of
three consecutive years for injured workers who are not 100 per cent disabled.
 These recipients receive what is called partial benefits. There are
approximately 155,000 such recipients. Over the past 12 years these injured
workers have seen a significant deterioration in their purchasing power
because of the way WSIB benefits are indexed to inflation.
    Injured workers who are 100 per cent disabled, along with their survivors
and dependants, receive an annual cost of living increase equal to the
percentage change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Canada.
    Since 1995, workers receiving partial benefits have received an annual
increase in accordance with a 'general indexing factor.' Between January 1,
1995 and December 31, 1997, the factor provided for an annual adjustment of 75
percent of the CPI minus one (with a cap of four per cent, but not less than 0
per cent.)
    The current general indexing factor came into effect on January 1, 1998. 
It provides for an annual adjustment of 50 percent of the CPI minus one (with
a cap of four per cent, but not less than 0 per cent). For example, the
increase for 2007 was 0.1 per cent.
    The budget proposal would establish a 2.5 percent increase on July 1,
2007 and a temporary indexing factor of 2.5 percent for the years beginning
January 1, 2008, and January 1, 2009.
    Since 1995, long-term benefits for injured workers receiving partial
benefits have increased only 2.9 per cent due to the general indexing factor,
while inflation has increased by almost 29 per cent. The budget proposal would
see monthly benefits increase by 7.5 per cent over an 18-month period, more
than double the increase given over the past 12 years.
    The budget proposal also provides for Ontario Lieutenant Governor in
Council regulation-making authority to prescribe indexation increases to
benefits after the end of 2009. This means legislative change would not be
needed for future indexation increases.

    Reviewing Cases 72 Months After Injury

    WSIB benefits for injured workers are generally fixed or "locked in" 72
months after the date of the worker's injury.
    Currently the WSIB has a restricted ability to review cases after this
72-month period.
    The proposed changes would provide additional circumstances where the
WSIB can review such cases.  For example, under the proposals, an injured
worker whose benefits are "locked in" could be reviewed due to a temporary or
permanent deterioration in his or her condition that is related to the
original injury.

    Determining Benefits Based On Suitable and Available Employment

    This change would require the WSIB to determine and calculate benefits
for injured workers re-entering the labour market based on what they are
likely to earn from employment that is both suitable and available.
    Under existing provisions of the WSIA, an injured worker's benefits could
be reduced or terminated if the worker can return to suitable work even though
this work is not available. The WSIB currently "deems" what an injured worker
is able to earn based on training and physical rehabilitation. This current
calculation does not take labour market conditions into consideration.
    The proposed change will require the WSIB to base loss of earnings
benefits on employment that is available.

    Lump Sum Payments for Injured Workers

    This budget proposal would require the WSIB to pay out a lump sum
retirement payment in lieu of a monthly income to injured workers who reach
the age of 65 if the benefit to which they would be entitled amounts to less
than $3,000 per year. Currently the figure is $1,166.41.
    The WSIB provides a benefit for loss of retirement income to certain
workers who have received loss of earnings benefits for at least 12 continuous
months. The WSIB sets aside an amount equal to five per cent of their benefits
to be paid as retirement income when the recipient reaches age 65.
    Currently, a worker whose retirement account will not produce an income
of $1,166.41 or more per year receives their account balance in one lump sum
payment. The proposed change will provide for a lump sum payment if the annual
amount is less than $3,000. This responds to requests from injured workers.

    Providing Broader Representation on the WSIB Board of Directors

    In February 2004 the government ordered a third-party audit to assess and
recommend improvements to the WSIB. Among the recommendations was that the
Board of Directors be increased and that the same person could not occupy both
the positions of Chair and President of the Board.
    The budget proposal would increase the size of the Board of Directors so
there is a minimum of seven members and a maximum of nine members in addition
to the President and Chair. It would also clarify that the same person cannot
be President and Chair.

    Increased Funding for the Office of the Worker Adviser

    The mandate of the Office of the Worker Adviser (OWA) is to educate,
advise, and represent non-unionized workers and their survivors in workplace
safety and insurance matters. This agency plays a critical role in supporting
these injured workers who have to deal with the many complexities and levels
of appeal in the workers' compensation system.
    The Ministry of Labour is proposing increased resources for the OWA to
improve and expand services to injured workers and their survivors. An
increase of $810,000 per year in on going funding would allow the OWA to serve
more clients in the province.
    The OWA currently represents cases where there is a "significant" chance
of success and at least eight weeks of benefits at stake. With increased
funding, this criterion would be changed to a "reasonable" chance of success
and at least four weeks of benefits at stake for cases to be considered.

    Injured Worker Groups Consulted Prior to Changes

    The proposed changes to the WSIA were made after consultation with a
number of groups, including Bright Lights, Injured Workers' Consultants,
Ontario Network for Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG), and the Thunder Bay &
District Injured Workers Groups. MPPs Michael Gravelle, Jennifer Mossop, and
the late Dominic Agostino played important roles that contributed to the
proposed legislation.

    
    Public Inquiries:
    Toll Free 1-800-387-5540

                            Disponible en français
                             www.labour.gov.on.ca
    





For further information:

For further information: Media Contacts: Susan McConnell, Minister's
Office, (416) 326-7710; Belinda Sutton, Ministry of Labour, (416) 326-7405

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Ontario Ministry of Labour

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