WSIB faces human rights complaint

Follows call by others for further investigation of Ontario board’s practices
By Sabrina Nanji
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/18/2016

A migrant worker’s human rights complaint against Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) is yet another challenge facing the board in recent months.

Farm worker Robert Sulph suffered life-threatening injuries when a malfunctioning saw sliced his neck and carotid artery. He was rushed to hospital and spent nearly a week in intensive care. 

When he returned to Jamaica, however, Sulph claims the WSIB did not provide a transition plan for his health care outside of the country, which it is legally required to do. 

Then, after having to give up treatment because of high costs, the WSIB closed his file in April 2015, said Sulph in his claim.

“The WSIB doesn’t care about us getting treatment or recovering from our injuries,” he said. “It’s not right that the WSIB treats migrant workers like our health doesn’t matter. We are treated like we are disposable when we are no longer useful to Canada.” 

On March 21, Sulph filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The claim alleges the WSIB discriminated against him for being a migrant worker when it failed to provide a proper plan for treatment outside of the province. 

The WSIB knew Sulph was returning to Jamaica but failed to create a plan for his care, despite him being entitled to equitable coverage, said his lawyer, Jessica Ponting, a legal worker with the Industrial Accident Victims’ Group of Ontario (IAVGO) Community Legal Clinic.

Sulph was having trouble receiving the care he needed to recover and, as a result, his health has deteriorated and he is generally unable to work, according to the complaint. Further, he claims he has fallen into poverty because of expensive medical bills.

“The systemic prejudice the WSIB has against this group of black, disabled, non-citizen workers amounts to discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code,” said Ponting. 

WSIB response 

As of press time, the WSIB had yet to receive Sulph’s human rights complaint but it knew one had been filed. As such, the board said it would not comment on the case directly. 

However, the WSIB is committed to treating all workers equally, said spokesperson Christine Arnott.

“The WSIB has a long history of dealing with migrant workers and is committed to treating all workers, including migrant workers, with care, compassion and respect,” she said. “Migrant workers who are injured on the job in Ontario are entitled to the same benefits and services as any worker in an Ontario workplace covered by the WSIB.”

That includes loss-of-earnings benefits, health care and return-to-work services. Migrant workers who are returning to their home country are entitled to an expedited medical assessment before they leave Ontario, in order to provide them with an understanding of their needs. In some cases, the WSIB will interact with local officials (such as a liaison office) to ensure the worker’s needs are being met out-of-province.

Under provincial law, the WSIB must pay full loss-of-earnings benefits until an injured worker has recovered sufficiently to return to work. That applies whether workers are in Canada or another country. 

Proposed rate framework changes — which will streamline and modernize the way claims are set for premium rates, and the way employers are classified — will have no impact on claims processes or benefit entitlement, said Arnott. 

In some cases, the WSIB also reimburses for transportation to and from medical treatment. Generally, the travel costs reimbursed are commensurate with the cost of public transit. When public transit isn’t available, alternative modes of transportation might be reimbursed. 

Sulph’s claim said he incurred hefty travel costs travelling for medical purposes because he lived in a rural part of Jamaica. 

Further investigation

His human rights complaint follows a call from the Ontario Federation of Labour and doctors, workers and lawyers for the provincial ombudsman to investigate the WSIB. 

The submission claims the board systematically ignores the advice of medical professionals for the purpose of rejecting and limiting otherwise legitimate injury claims. 

While Sylph’s claim alleged “systemic” discrimination, the WSIB does not collect statistics on migrant worker claims specifically as the system does not classify claims in such a manner, said Arnott. But status as a migrant worker does not affect benefit entitlement, she said.

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