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CanadaInjured workers face benefit cuts as compensation board assigns them ‘phantom jobs’ with ‘ghost wages’: Report

15:22  22 may  2019
15:22  22 may  2019 Source:   thestar.com

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Permanently injured workers are having their benefits slashed because the provincial compensation board deems them capable of doing “imaginary” jobs “For these unemployed workers , the WSIB simply waves a magic wand and assigns an imaginary job with an imaginary wage ,” the report by

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Injured workers face benefit cuts as compensation board assigns them ‘phantom jobs’ with ‘ghost wages’: Report© Nick Kozak Wayne Harris, who had worked as a sprinkler fitter, was permanently injured after falling off a ladder on the job in 2012. Last year, the WSIB deemed him capable of being a project manager and cut his benefits by two thirds.

Permanently injured workers are having their benefits slashed because the provincial compensation board deems them capable of doing “imaginary” jobs with “ghost wages,” a new report says — even though the board’s own audits have identified significant barriers to finding real employment.

The study, based on freedom-of-information requests, focuses on a practice known as deeming. That refers to when the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board “deems” a permanently injured worker employable in a new job, and then reduces their compensation accordingly — regardless of whether they’ve actually found employment.

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The data shows that these workers, some of whom have been left with life-changing physical restrictions, face significant barriers in finding a job. In some cases only a small portion are actually successful. For example, just 27 per cent of injured workers with English language barriers who completed a WSIB work transition program found a real job at the end of it, according to the board’s internal audits. Some job categories for these workers had a zero per cent employment rate.

“For these unemployed workers, the WSIB simply waves a magic wand and assigns an imaginary job with an imaginary wage,” the report by the Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups and the Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic says.

“The WSIB then cuts the worker’s benefits, by pretending that the worker is earning actual wages from the imaginary job.”

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Injured workers face benefit cuts as compensation board assigns them ‘phantom jobs’ with ‘ghost wages’: Report© Nick Kozak Sprinkler fitter Wayne Harris was permanently injured after falling off a ladder in 2012, resulting in three surgeries so far.

Around 6 per cent of workplace accidents — or around 3,000 — result in permanent impairments every year, according to WSIB data. Many of these workers successfully return to their accident employer. The report released Wednesday, entitled Phantom Jobs and Empty Pockets, focuses on those who can’t.

“For short-term and visible injuries, the system works fairly well. Workers with these kinds of injuries usually receive benefits for the time they miss from work, they heal and return to their usual lives,” the report says. “But workers who have permanent injuries and are unable to get back to their job face a different story.”

In a statement to the Star, WSIB spokesperson Christine Arnott said legislation required post-injury compensation to be determined by “suitable and available” alternative employment. Arnott said the board provides skills training for workers who were unable to return to their pre-injury job, adding that in 2018, 94 per cent of people were able to find work after completing a return-to-work plan.

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“The WSIB is here to help people recover and return to work safely after an injury or illness. We are proud that 9 out of 10 people who miss work because of an injury are back on the job with no wage loss within one year of being injured,” she said.

But those numbers don’t separate workers who experience minor injuries from those who suffer a life-changing accident, the IWC’s Laura Lunansky said.

“It’s a really significant, at times, devastating impact. They’re told to go off into the labour market with a disability and expected to compete with people who don’t,” she said.

One WSIB internal audit from 2016 obtained by the IWC and ONIWG looked at injured workers who were not able to return to their original employer. It found that around half of those deemed capable of working did not actually have a job.

“By WSIB’s own statistics, almost half of permanently injured workers have neither jobs nor workers’ compensation benefits,” the report says.

Sprinkler fitter Wayne Harris, 49, was permanently injured after falling off a ladder in 2012, resulting in three surgeries so far. He is now facing a complete shoulder replacement. After providing a retraining program, the WSIB last year deemed him capable of being a project manager and cut his benefits by two thirds, he says, even though his surgeon told him he should not be working at all.

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“I became a project manager with two years’ experience, which I’m not sure how I got,” he says. “I was a father, I was a coach for my kids in hockey, and I was a sprinkler fitter. That was me.”

“Daily life right now for me is a challenge,” he added. “Although my surgeons are saying I shouldn’t be working, the board is saying I should be doing a 40-hour work week.”

When workers are permanently injured on the job, they are entitled to compensation for their loss of earnings. Deeming allows the board to reduce the dollar figure. For example, if a worker was making $112-a-day in their old job and $98 in a new “phantom job,” they would be entitled to 85 per cent of the wage difference — $11.90 a day.

“The practice of deeming creates injured worker poverty. It encourages a system where many injured workers are abandoned twice: first by their injury employer — who will not provide them with suitable duties, and then by the WSIB, the very system that is meant to protect them in these circumstances,” the report says

That, the report found, has an impact on the public purse.

The WSIB is entirely funded by employers, who pay annual insurance premiums. But the report found at least 3,300 injured workers who had experienced WSIB “deeming” had to turn to social assistance to survive, costing the taxpayer an estimated $48 million per year.

Internal WSIB documents obtained by the IWC and ONIWG show that the board itself has identified certain groups that are more likely to struggle to be re-employed. These include women, low-income workers, older workers, and those with greater impairments because of their injuries.

“Despite identifying these vulnerable workers as those who have the hardest time finding work, the WSIB does not routinely consider these factors when they are deciding if a worker is employable,” the report says.

“I’ll be brutally honest, there are psychological issues that happen. For my youngest son to have to hear me cry and tell me everything will be OK, that’s just not right,” added Harris.

“They’ve made me a number and repeatedly told me I don’t count. That’s wrong.”

Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour-related issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz

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