Editor’s note: This report on the number of companies that will be excluded from the PC’s WSIB premium rebate failed to include firms convicted under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. According to Labour Minister Monte McNaughton’s office, who responded to Queen’s Park Today’s request for comment following publication of the story, there are actually 300 businesses that will not receive a rebate.
Almost every employer in Ontario is a “safe employer,” at least as far as the PC’s upcoming Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) premium refund is concerned.
Promoted by the government as a reward for safe employers, the eligibility criteria for businesses to receive a cut of the $1.5 billion the WSIB will dole out from its $6.1-billion surplus pool next month is quite broad.
To get an automatic rebate from the injured workers’ board, a business must not have been convicted of an offence under the Workplace Safety Act or the Occupational Health and Safety Act in either 2021 or 2022, or have more than one conviction since 2017.
Per the WSIB’s website, just 19 businesses have been convicted of an offence during that period, meaning nearly every private business in Ontario that pays WSIB premiums is in line for a refund. (Schedule 2 businesses like public services and federally regulated airlines aren’t part of the program.)
“There’s no way that all the employers except those 19 are ‘safe employers,’” Steve Mantis, chair of research action at the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG), told Queen’s Park Today in an interview.
ONIWG executive vice-president Willy Noiles was even more blunt, arguing the criteria “puts the lie” to the government’s justification for the refund. The program is not rewarding workplaces considered especially safe, he said, likening it to a political stunt.
“This is nothing more than a way to buy companies’ votes with injured workers’ money,” fumed Noiles, who argued the surplus rightly belongs to injured workers who saw their benefits slashed through practices such as deeming.
“[That] money was meant to help injured workers with either treatment or loss of earnings benefits,” he said. “Now it’s being used to buy votes.”
Additionally, the pair said the PC’s program gives businesses further incentive to use the services of temporary worker agencies, a growing cottage industry that, as they see it, is being utilized to suppress the number of complaints that can be attached to a workplace, while keeping premiums down rather than encouraging companies to fix safety issues.
“We had questions about this right from the get-go. Because there are places, such as Fiera Foods, where there have been five people killed [since 1999], but I’m sure they are going to get money back,” said Noiles.
“Unfortunately, it’s almost making it easier for some of these dangerous places to just hire from a temp agency. And that way there’s nothing on their books. Some of these temp agencies are fly-by-night, so what do they care?”
Fiera Foods was charged in August 2017 for the death of temp worker Amina Diaby, but it would need more than one conviction since then to not be eligible for a refund now, according to the WSIB’s terms.
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton’s office did not respond to Queen’s Park Today’s request for comment on this story.
Money would be better spent on safety audits: advocates
Mantis noted available statistics don’t always paint an accurate picture of the situation inside a workplace. The best way to evaluate a company, he said, would be to talk to its workers to find out details of their experience, but the government isn’t doing that when it comes to determining who qualifies for the rebate.
“The government is really in a tough spot to really figure out who is safe and who isn’t. So they’re grasping at straws to find some criteria that would seem both fair and generous at the same time,” said Mantis.
“Everybody gets it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good employer or a bad employer. Doesn’t matter at all.”
Even if the government doesn’t want to funnel the surplus back into WSIB benefits, there are other ways the money could have been used to improve worker safety, such as prevention measures, per Mantis.
“The research has really shown that the most effective model of prevention is through a safety audit at the workplace,” he said.
When the rebate was enacted as part of Bill 27, Working For Workers Act, it was opposed by the NDP, who labelled it a “poison pill.” However, the party ultimately voted in favour of the legislation, which also set the table for a new licensing regime for temp agencies.
When asked about the eligibility criteria on Tuesday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the WSIB’s focus should be on making sure injured workers get adequate benefits so they don’t have to turn to ODSP or Ontario Works — and suggested the giveaway is another instance of Premier Doug Ford taking care of his “buddies.”
“The fact that it’s now about to flow a couple of weeks before the election campaign starts is something that makes people cynical about politics and about governments,”said Horwath in response to Queen’s Park Today.
“Doug Ford’s buddies will do very well by Doug Ford, and the rest of us are the ones that are going to pay the price for that.”