The poverty of austerity

In the current issue of Canadian Occupation Safety magazine (Oct. 10, 2013) Ontario’s WSIB Chair reports benefit costs have been reduced by $500 million since 2008, and that transformation and efficiencies of the Board, “one of North America’s largest insurance companies”, are creating a system important to the economic growth and productivity of the province.

However a recent submission to the government’s 2013 Poverty Reduction Strategy Consultations by Injured Workers Consultants Community Legal Clinic details a different reality. For many injured workers these system “enhancements” and austerity cuts have resulted in additional harm and poverty. Real poverty eradication calls for a return to a just compensation system based on Meredith’s founding principles – one that treats injured workers with respect and dignity while truly seeking to support them through their workplace injuries and illnesses. They also note that if the costs of workplace injury/illness are not shifted to the public health or social welfare systems, resources are then freed up to use towards the broader poverty reduction goal.

South of the border, as part of cost-cutting measures, New York has recently announced the closure of eight workers’ comp hearing sites (capitalnewyork.com,  Oct. 4).  Injured workers  with denied claims, especially those in rural areas, face a loss of practical access to the due process to have their case heard and determined (or as one headline put it: “WCB: Let them eat cake…and drive 200 miles”). In calling for this decision to be reviewed, lawyer and worker representative William Pulos protests that “using the pretext ‘to save rent money’ will disenfranchise the state’s population least able to defend themselves; the sick, injured and disabled from on-the-job accidents that the State has the statutory requirement to protect….”  This comes at  a time when the adjudication delays caused by the federal government shutdown are already having an adverse impact on injured workers’ finances and medical treatment. As the shutdown continues, low-income injured workers whose claims have been denied hope funding of community programs that provide them with urgently needed assistance with rent, utilities and food will not be endangered.(Workers’ Compensation blog, Oct. 13, 2013)