Injured workers, politicians and unionists marked the 28th anniversary of Injured Workers’ Day on Wednesday by emphasizing that government policies condemn injured workers to a life of poverty.

Last year, injured workers received cost of living adjustments less than the annual rate of inflation. Those in agony faced cuts to their pain medications allowances. Many disabled workers can’t get the appropriate training to help them back into the work force.

And injured workers who can’t find suitable work are being cut off workers’ compensation.

Since 1984, injured workers have been coming to Queen’s Park to fight for the rights of injured workers. That year, over 3,000 injured workers and their families attended a government committee that was looking at replacing lifetime workers’ compensation pensions with a lump-sum payment for pain and suffering and a wage-loss system of payment.

They convinced the committee to shift their meeting from the committee room to the lawn at Queen’s Park where they were able to defeat the changes.

Injured workers want a commitment now from the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals that all workers in Ontario will be covered by the Workplace Safety & Insurance Act. They want full cost of living adjustments, the elimination of employer incentive programs and the end to cutting off workers’ benefits before they’ve found a new job.

The Ontario Network for Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG) said that in the last ten years the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has paid $2 billion to employers in rebates and reduced employer premiums for WSIB coverage by 27 per cent while cutting injured worker benefits by 20 per cent compared to the cost of living.

Cuts to benefits and services for injured workers, they added, are not the way to deal with the funding concerns of the WSIB.

“The costs of the WSIB should be on the employers’ side,” said Peter Page, ONIWG President.

NDP WSIB Critic MPP Paul Miller demanded to know why the Minister of Labour’s WSIB is re-interpreting its policies and procedures to ensure that injured workers receive less compensation.

“Rather than look for loopholes to cut much-needed benefits for Ontarians hurt on the job, it’s time the McGuinty Liberals showed some respect for injured workers,” said Miller.

On Tuesday evening, the Women of Inspiration held an all night vigil on the front lawn of Queen’s Park to remind everyone that injured workers spend many sleepless nights living in fear, despair and deprivation.

“We want justice for all injured workers,” said Maryam Nazemi, who suffered a serious spinal cord injury eight years ago. “As long as my health allows it, I will keep the vigil up for all of you.”

Nazemi’s 16-year-old daughter, Neeky Dalir, said most people her age and their parents don’t know a thing about WSIB coverage and how it affects them.

“My mother assumed like many other workers in Ontario that she should receive some compensation while she was recovering from her injury,” said Dalir. “But she was shocked to find out she did not have any coverage.”

Because Ontario law still doesn’t require all employers to contribute to WSIB, over one third of the Ontario workforce doesn’t have any coverage.

Nazemi’s family was forced to move from a house to a small apartment and her father had to take on a second job to make ends meet.

“The austerity measures are too much for people to keep up with,” said injured worker Eddie Tilley. “We can’t deal with it any longer.”

“We need change and we need change now.”

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John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.