TORONTO, Feb. 18, 2016 /CNW/ - Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, has reacted with cautious optimism to the Ontario government's introduction today of legislation to support first responders diagnosed with post‑traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"This is great news for all Ontario first responders. I'm particularly pleased for the correctional and ambulance staff that OPSEU is proud to represent. We know these heroic individuals risk life and limb every working day to keep our communities safe. Now the government has finally woken up to the fact that first responders also put their emotional and mental well-being on the line."
The legislation would create a presumption that PTSD diagnosed in first responders is work related, leading to faster access to resources and treatment. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) would process claims faster, the government says, allowing first responders to get the help they need sooner.
Monte Vieselmeyer, Chair of OPSEU's Corrections Division, said he was delighted that correctional staff in institutions were covered, but insisted probation and parole staff should be as well. "You can't imagine the scenarios these officers face. They interact with hardened criminals, gang members, pedophiles, drug users and people with mental health issues. They're insulted, threatened and confronted with contraband weapons. They need protection, and they need help when they get sick."
"This is a great day for paramedics and dispatchers," said OPSEU Ambulance Division Chair Jamie Ramage. "The union and the division have been working for years to get the WSIB to presume that PTSD is a workplace-acquired illness for first responders. Putting presumption right into the legislation is the way to go, but the devil is in the details. We'll be taking a hard look at the legislation."
OPSEU President Thomas applauded the activism by first responders and opposition politicians that led the Liberal government to take action.
"I want to recognize MPP Cheri DiNovo and NDP leader Andrea Horwath for fighting so hard and so long for first responders," he said. "Cheri introduced a bill on this eight years ago. She reintroduced it four more times. Finally, the Liberals seem to have come to their senses, thanks in part to the media, who helped lay bare the PTSD crisis among first responders."
OPSEU represents some 3,700 institutional correctional officers and 1,350 probation and parole officers in the Ontario Public Service, as well as about 1,200 youth correctional officers in the broader public sector. It also represents approximately 3,200 ambulance workers and dispatchers.
SOURCE Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)
For further information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931