May 24th, 2024

Ontario to change how it compensates injured migrant workers

By Liam Casey, The Canadian Press on May 15, 2024.

Migrant workers pick strawberries at a strawberry farm in Pont Rouge, Que., on August 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

TORONTO – Ontario will revamp how it compensates injured migrant workers.

Workplace Safety and Insurance Board president Jeff Lang says the changes affect how the board pays a worker who cannot return to a job due to injury, but is able to work elsewhere.

The WSIB pays workers 85 per cent of their salary if they are hurt on the job and unable to return to that role, but claws back money that is earned from other work.

Lang says that is not fair because migrant workers who return home after injury usually earn far less in their countries than if they worked the same job in Ontario full time.

Lang says he is sorry for what he called the province’s unfair treatment of injured migrant workers.

He says the WSIB is reviewing 50 claims dating back to 2007 and will likely be paying out millions in retroactive compensation.

“These are some of the most vulnerable people, they came to work in Ontario, they got hurt, they got sent back to their home countries, and they got dinged for not being from Ontario,” Lang told The Canadian Press.

“And quite frankly, that’s just wrong, so we’re going to make it right.”

Years ago, four injured migrant workers in similar situations went to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal to argue for better compensation.

Last September, the tribunal ruled that the WSIB was wrong to assume seasonal migrant workers were eligible for a maximum of 12 weeks of income-loss compensation through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program if they had been injured.

It noted that the loss-of-earnings provisions of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act assumed that after three months, all workers could return to work either in Ontario or their home country, without taking into account workers’ actual circumstances, such as whether they had recovered from their injury, were capable of working or finding a job.

The tribunal ruled that was not appropriate.

“It is not appropriate to limit their entitlement to long-term (loss of employment) benefits to 12 weeks in every case without regard for their individual circumstances,” it wrote.

“For the reasons set out in this decision, the panel concludes: The long-term (loss of earnings) benefits for migrant agricultural workers ought to be based upon their ability to earn in their actual local/regional labour market.

The tribunal’s decision didn’t spark change at the WSIB as it had already decided to review its interpretation of the legislation, Lang said, but it convinced the organization it was on the right path to fix the problem.

“If you’re injured while working in Ontario or become ill, you are going to be treated equally, you’re going to be treated with dignity, you’re going to be treated with respect, you’re going to be treated with compassion,” Lang said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2024.

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