PETERBOROUGH, ON, Jan. 26, 2018 /CNW/ - GE retirees were disappointed with the Labour Minister Kevin Flynn's lack of consideration for the plight of General Electric workers suffering occupational diseases, after meeting with him today at MPP Jeff Leal's office.
"The Minister is just playing with workers' and their families' lives," said Sue James, Chair of the GE Occupational Health Advisory Committee.
The GE Retirees Occupational Health Advisory Committee recently learned that the Ministry of Labour has refused to fund Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) to provide independent assessments for illnesses caused by work at the GE. According to a letter dated January 4, 2018 to OHCOW by Ministry of Labour official William Roy, and confirmed by Minister Flynn, all GE claims are no longer to be assessed by OHCOW, but will be sent to the WSIB directly without an independent assessment.
According to Sue James, Chairperson of the Advisory Committee, it is a major setback for GE workers who will now have to rely on the WSIB staff to build a case for their claims.
"Minister Flynn has broken a major promise to ensure that OHCOW was adequately funded to assist workers. Last January the minister said 'the WSIB is broken' and could not be relied upon to provide fair assessments. He told us that he would find another way to deal with these claims fairly and expeditiously. But today he told us it was working well. So what has changed?" asked James.
"So, now we are left to rely upon the very same system that was the problem to begin with," said Marilyn Harding, a GE retiree who lost her husband Gerry to pancreatic cancer after working at GE and who is also a victim of breast and bladder cancer. Both Marilyn and her husband's claims were denied by the board, but have not been further assessed by OHCOW because of lack of funding.
The Harding's claims, as well as over 250 other GE claims, have been in limbo for over 15 years. According to WSIB statistics, close to 75 per cent of GE occupational disease claims have been denied by the Board over a period of 15 years. Efforts to support these claims were hampered in the past when the government denied funding for OHCOW to provide medical and hygiene assessments in 2004.
"Now we are seeing the government doing the same thing by refusing to fund the clinic to provide this necessary independent work. The Ministry of Labour continues to play games with the lives of GE workers," said James.
OHCOW submitted four budget proposals, three of which have been rejected. While the Ministry says the fourth proposal is still under consideration, it already ordered OHCOW to send its 77 new patient cases directly to the WSIB for assessment, a sign that it has no intention of allowing a role for OHCOW.
According to Bill Woodbeck, chair of the GE Retirees Chapter of Unifor Local 524, the Minister of Labour now maintains that the WSIB is making progress with the 250 claims being reconsidered by the Board.
"A 50/50 denial/allowed rate is hardly progress, particularly since these allowed claims were seen as the low hanging fruit by WSIB officials," said Woodbeck. "What will happen to the more complex cases? And how were these 250 cases selected for review? And what will happen to the denied claims? Will they and their advocates be advised of potential appeal? The board refuses to be transparent and provide us with these details. These are the questions the Minister would not answer."
For Sue James and the GE victims and their families this is unacceptable. "There is no way that our GE families feel they can trust the WSIB to properly perform the work-related assessment."
The Committee feels that this lack of confidence is well-founded. A study by the Industrial Accidents Victims Group of Ontario (IAVGO) found that the Board was engaged in denying claims based on "NO" evidence in order to reduce its unfunded liability between 2010 and 2014. The committee questioned how the Minister expects workers to put the cases in the hands of an agency with questionable practices.
SOURCE GE Retirees Occupational Health Advisory Committee
For further information: Sue James, 705 876-1150(h) 705 759-8971(c); Bill Woodbeck, 705 742-4826