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Injured workers want justice, not poverty

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Injured workers, community activists and trade unionists gathered Friday outside the Ministry of Labour at 400 University Avenue in Toronto, calling for better treatment for injured workers by employers, the government and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

"The poverty of injured workers is a shame," said Marion Endicott, injured worker activist and community legal worker. 

Especially since the compensation system was established to prevent injured workers from living a life of poverty.

In 1915, injured workers gave up the right to sue their employers in exchange for a compensation system that would allow injured workers to live a poverty-free, dignified life.

But over the years injured workers have seen their benefits eroded by inflation and clawbacks.

In order to restore their purchasing power, they want full cost of living adjustments, job security or full wage loss payments, and full coverage of all workers in Ontario.

It was a cold, snowy day for the 20th annual injured workers' Christmas demonstration. Many limped around with canes. Others shuffled along with walkers. A few were anchored to wheelchairs. 

All victims of workplace injuries or illnesses.

"This year we have an extra problem," said Endicott. "Instead of moving forward, we seem to be moving backwards."

Endicott was referring to the recently published report by KPMG (the same private consulting firm that recommended cuts to City of Toronto core services and programs) that argued in favour of major benefit changes to the workers' compensation system.

"It's way out of bounds and completely destroys the fundamental principles of our system," she said.

Santa Claus and several others were dressed in orange prison jumpsuits this year to make a point about KPMG’s recommendation to keep injured workers on "perpetual probation" through an endless review of their benefits.

As usual, the Christmas tree of pain was elaborately decorated with an assortment of empty pain medication bottles.

"KPMG should never be," chanted the demonstrators, who accused WSIB President and former banker David Marshall of bringing in KPMG to justify benefit cuts to injured workers in order to solve the WSIB's financial woes.

A moment of silence was observed for all workers killed on the job over the decades.

Karl Crevar, Treasurer of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG), reminded everyone in Toronto that many injured workers and their families won't be having a Merry Christmas.

Other injured workers groups held similar events around the province.

"And there will be more demonstrations at that building over there," said Crevar pointing to the KPMG logo on the side of an office tower in the distance. 

Like many of her colleagues, Betty Campbell, an injured worker, was eventually fired by her employer of 17 years and left without any means of financial support. 

She spent what was left of her remaining savings and RRSPs in order to survive and will be forced to rely solely on government benefits when she retires.

"We do not go to work to be injured or maimed," said Campbell. "We do not deserve to live in poverty and despair because the government has chosen to ignore the consequences of workplace injuries."

She said the recent Value for Money audit by KPMG is "rife with attacks on injured workers" and will force them to shoulder the cost of their workplace injuries and illnesses.

"This is not the contract we agreed to 100 years ago," said Campbell. 

Patricia Reilly, ONIWG Toronto coordinator, blamed KPMG for creating more difficult times for injured workers by using the financial crisis and recession to deny or cut off their benefits.

"We want a road to dignity and justice -- not a road to poverty," said Reilly.

Many workers believe that KPMG assumes that the WSIB should be run as a business, but quickly forget that the business of the WSIB is to compensate injured workers.

"The KPMG report has gone well beyond its mandate with its recommendations," said Crevar. 

"This report was supposed to do a Value for Money audit. We (already) have a Funding Review to address the funding of the WSIB while at the same time the KPMG report recommends cuts to workers."

In September 2010, the WSIB established an independent Funding Review, chaired by Prof. Harry Arthurs, to provide advice on how to deal with the unfunded liability of the Ontario's workers' safety and insurance scheme.

Crevar wants the provincial government and the Minister of Labour (who attended today's demonstration) to question WSIB President David Marshall's leadership and, if necessary, replace him with a more suitable candidate.

"We're human beings -- not a commodity," said Crevar.

Click here to see more photos from the demonstration.

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