No strike on Monday for N.W.T. gov’t workers


After two days of mediation, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Union of Northern Workers have not reached a tentative agreement — but there won’t be a strike on Monday.

The two parties have agreed to binding recommendations from mediator Vince Ready, and a condition of that agreement is that the members of the union won’t be striking.

Earlier this week, the UNW said its members would strike on Monday if an agreement was not reached through this weekend’s mediation with the territorial government — job action that would have impacted about 4,000 unionized employees, from school custodians to policy analysts.

Ready said the parties had made « considerable progress » during the two days of mediation, according to a news release from both the government and the UNW. But the statement also said there remain a few outstanding issues, including « economic increases, term of the agreement, and job security issues. »

The mediator has imposed a « media blackout » until he releases his recommendations, the statement said, which could take about 30 days. 


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Funeral workers launch peer support group to help their mental health


Organizers of a peer-counselling group for funeral home workers in Ottawa say they had a hard time finding help for their industry’s mental health challenges, so they made their own service.

« We’re trying to create a network, » said Melanie Giroux, an embalmer with Ottawa’s Hulse, Playfair & McGarry funeral home and co-founder of Ottawa Funeral Peer Support.

« We want to be able to bring people into our group, to allow them to grow this in other parts of Canada, so we can help every funeral director in Canada. Everyone needs it. » 

There is not a lot of research into the trauma experienced by people working in the death industry, but a peer counselling facilitator for the group said he’s been struck with how similar their stories are to the experiences of paramedics and police officers

« It’s a different level of trauma, but there’s been no support, » said Tom Kelly at a meeting on Tuesday night.

‘Vicarious trauma’

Giroux said she’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

« I think the injury is vicarious trauma, » said Giroux of the day-to-day experiences of workers.

« We deal with the trauma other people are experiencing. »

Melanie Giroux helped start Ottawa Funeral Peer Support. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Co-founder Michael Dixon was first diagnosed with depression and PTSD three years ago.

He is a supervisor for Ottawa Mortuary Services, which transports human remains —  often working with police and the coroner, sometimes attending horrific collisions and homicide scenes. 

Last month he went to the scene of the fatal bus collision at Westboro station

He said when he started sharing his experiences caused by on-the-job trauma, he began hearing from colleagues who wanted to share their own. 

During the same period, he said two colleagues killed themselves and others had left the business. 

Creating a service

When Dixon went looking for some kind of peer counselling, he said not only was there none in Ottawa — but he couldn’t find any in Canada. 

That’s when he and a handful of colleagues got together to design the group.

Now about a dozen members — mostly funeral directors and other employees in the death services industry — meet to share their experiences.

They talk about how they build support networks to talk about « a really terrible call » and if a colleague is in crisis, they can line up professional counselling.

Dixon said the group has changed the way he monitors his staff and checks in after disturbing jobs. 

Giroux said the meetings help her understand the power of mutual support.

« I’ve learned I’m not alone, » she said.

Giroux said the group has been approached by workers in other communities and some of its members are planning to travel to meet with them.


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Front-line workers call for immediate action to ease homelessness ‘crisis’


Toronto needs to declare homelessness a humanitarian crisis and call on the province for urgent assistance.

That was the call being made by front-line workers and advocates at a news conference at city hall Tuesday morning, standing alongside city councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam, Gord Perks and Josh Matlow.

“There are easily 400 people still outside and this is not a cold weather story, you must understand that,” said street nurse Cathy Crowe, representing the Shelter and Housing Justice Network.

“We have close to 60 shelters in the city that are really shelters, but we now have over 1,000 people forced to sleep … on floors, on mats, on cots, in situations that are like post-hurricane Katrina is the way I would describe it,” said Crowe.

Extreme cold weather this week drove more than 1,000 people in the city into temporary overnight drop-in, respite and warming centres, which Crowe says are inadequate.

Wong-Tam said 9,000 people are living on the streets right now, as a result of a housing crisis created by the “chronic failure” of every level of government, over multiple administrations to invest in essential services.

“If this was all to have happened overnight, this would be a calamity, but because it happened in a slow-moving fashion over a period of time, it’s almost crept up on us like climate change,” said Wong-Tam after the news conference. “We believe that we have reached this critical point where we need to name it and call it a crisis and move with the determined action of an emergency response.”

Wong-Tam said things have become so dire that an emergency response is required from all levels of government.

Should the province also find itself without the resources to adequately contain the crisis, the group asked that a provincial emergency should be declared so that the resources of the federal government could be brought to bear on the situation.

At a separate event Tuesday, Mayor John Tory, acknowledged the “pressure” the shelter system is under.

“Our city staff do their very best and so do some of the agencies who help us to operate those shelters. They are under pressure. The statistics from last night were about 97 per cent occupancy on a very cold night,” but the bottom line was there were spaces available, said Tory.

The mayor said the focus needs to be on creating housing for low-income Torontonians, including those with mental health and addiction issues, not symbolic declarations.

“I’m devoting all of my energies to try to convince the other governments to support those initiatives for us so that we can move people out of shelters … as opposed to these kinds of declarations that our very own lawyers have told us in the past have little effect of achieving anything on behalf of the people who need our help,” Tory said.

At the city hall news conference, Bob Rose, with the Parkdale Eviction Resistance Network, said the problem is twofold. The first problem is that the city is not building enough housing, social housing and alternatives to the current shelter system are not functioning.

“The second challenge is the displacement of poor people from the inner core, the loss of affordable housing … sudden evictions, the takeover by corporate landlords of neighbourhoods that have traditionally provided affordable housing, Parkdale being one of those,” said Rose.

Perks said he received two calls Tuesday from people who were being evicted from their homes, where they pay rents in the range of $400 to $600, so that the landlords could bring in tenants who could afford to pay more.

He said he wants to start getting phone calls from Torontonians who are willing to pay more taxes in order to fund a better shelter and affordable housing system in Toronto.

“It’s a very simple decision. Do you want a government that will save you $100 to $200 a year or do you want a government that will house people? Every Torontonian should be thinking about this every day until the problem is solved,” said Perks.

Ann Lapenna, an ambassador for Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre, came to hold up a sign reading RIP, to represent one of the four people who has died so far this year.

“I’m concerned about the people not having enough beds, people dying,” she said.

Toronto Public Health recorded 145 deaths of people experiencing homelessness from Jan 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, according to the advocates.

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF


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Auto workers rally in Windsor as GM predicts jump in profits


Premier Doug Ford, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and even Warren Buffett came under fire at a rally in Windsor Friday in support of Oshawa auto workers, but it was GM CEO Mary Barra who drew the harshest criticism from union leader Jerry Dias.

“We are absolutely disgusted at not only your corporate greed, but also your personal greed,” fumed Dias, the president of Unifor, which represents the 2,600 GM workers who’ll be out of a job by next year. The rally brought together auto workers and leaders of other unions from across the province.

In November, GM announced plans to close five North American factories and get rid of 14,000 workers, including roughly 2,600 in Oshawa.
In November, GM announced plans to close five North American factories and get rid of 14,000 workers, including roughly 2,600 in Oshawa.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star File Photo)

Dias blasted Barra’s $22-million salary, and claimed the GM CEO is also the company’s biggest non-institutional shareholder, meaning her own net worth had risen while jobs were being cut.

Dias, whose harsh words were cheered and brought cries of “shame” from the crowd — estimated by union sources as “in the thousands” — was speaking on the heels of a GM meeting with institutional investors, where the company said the fourth quarter of 2018 was a stronger one than expected for the company.

Shares jumped nearly 9 per cent in midday trading.

Barra said the company doesn’t foresee any further job cuts through 2020. In November, GM announced plans to close five North American factories and get rid of 14,000 workers, including roughly 2,600 in Oshawa.

The company predicted Friday that 2018 pretax, per-share profits would be higher than the $5.80 to $6.20 range it forecast in the third quarter. For 2019, it expected that to increase to $6.50 to $7.

The rosy profit forecast comes despite declining sales for the company in the U.S. and slowing sales in China. GM also plans to exit several car lines in the U.S. in the coming year.

The outlook exceeded Wall Street’s expectations for both years. Analysts polled by FactSet expect pretax earnings of $6.24 for 2018 and they predict a decline for this year, to $5.92.

“I bet they didn’t tell investors that in Canada, sales dropped by 30 per cent in December, compared to 2017,” Dias said to hoots from the crowd in Windsor.

Among GM’s investors is Berkshire Hathaway, the financial behemoth run by Buffett.

Referring to one of Buffett’s favourite sayings that it takes 20 years to build a reputation but 5 minutes to destroy it, Dias warned the so-called Sage of Omaha that he could be hurting his own reputation by sticking with GM.

“This is your five minutes,” said Dias, who also demanded a meeting with Barra, Trudeau and Ford to discuss ways to save the Oshawa plant.

“The ship hasn’t sailed.”

With files from Star wire services

Josh Rubin is a Toronto-based business reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @starbeer


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Power workers could be made an essential service, Doug Ford says


As MPPs debate back-to-work legislation to keep power workers from zapping Ontario’s electricity system, Premier Doug Ford is not ruling out eventually designating them an essential service.

“We haven’t crossed that bridge yet. Would we rule it out? We wouldn’t rule anything out,” the premier said Tuesday at Amazon headquarters where the U.S. company announced 600 jobs for the province.

Making the workers essential would forbid them from ever striking. Their contracts would instead be settled through arbitration, as is done with police, emergency services and Toronto Transit Commission employees.

“The most important thing is get the OPG workers back on the job,” Ford said of the 6,000 Ontario Power Generation employees who are members of the Power Workers’ Union.

“We can’t afford to have any power outages, any power blackouts or brownouts across the province,” the premier told reporters.

With the bill expected to pass by Thursday, Ford said he was hopeful things get back to normal by Friday.

Energy Minister Greg Rickford, noting the government has moved quickly to end the first such job action since 1985, praised the unionized workers for behaving so responsibly in the dispute.

“When 50 per cent of the Ontario’s hydro supply is at stake, we take the issue very seriously,” said Rickford.

“We appreciate the Power Workers’ Union. They issued their vote to strike and strike notice on Friday and they remain on the job. We appreciate that, because we think they understand the importance of no interruptions during this critical season of peak demand and temperatures getting colder,” he said.

“After eight months of negotiations, three votes, a rejection of the final offer on Thursday, a vote to strike on Friday and the option for arbitration, every right has been afforded to resolve this. This is now less about rights than it is about lights.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath oppose the legislation because it infringes on the Charter rights of workers to collective bargaining.

The PWU also expressed disappointment at the bill.

“Our union has a proven track record of negotiating fair and responsible employment agreements,” said union president Mel Hyatt

“Our priority has always been the strength and health of Ontario’s electricity sector. This is reflected in how we negotiate for our membership and in our public statements about energy issues affecting the people of Ontario,” said Hyatt.

“These highly-trained and skilled term workers have not been treated fairly or responsibly by OPG,” he said.

“Since the PWU initiated the current job action in response to OPG’s last offer, our members have acted professionally and responsibly to ensure the energy needs of the people of Ontario are met.”

The workers, who operate the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations as well as 66 hydroelectric stations, rejected OPG’s offer of a 6.6 per cent wage increase over three years.

That decision last Friday triggered a 21-day period in which the utility and its employees take steps to begin shutting down the plants.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie


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Tories introduce legislation to block strike by power workers


The province has introduced legislation to end the Power Workers’ Union’s job action at Ontario Power Generation, but there are no plans to deem the employees an essential service, which would forbid them from ever striking.

As the legislature resumed for an emergency sitting Monday to prevent the first hydro work stoppage since 1985, Energy Minister Greg Rickford said the labour situation is “a very serious matter,” but that “essential service does not and has not formed any part of the legislation or our discussions.

Energy Minister Greg Rickford says the provincial government is “focused on creating a fair mechanism through arbitration as a result of this legislation to make sure that Ontario’s electricity supply continues uninterrupted.”
Energy Minister Greg Rickford says the provincial government is “focused on creating a fair mechanism through arbitration as a result of this legislation to make sure that Ontario’s electricity supply continues uninterrupted.”  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star file photo)

“We’re focused on creating a fair mechanism through arbitration as a result of this legislation to make sure that Ontario’s electricity supply continues uninterrupted,” Rickford said.

The minister emphasized that the Progressive Conservative government was moving swiftly to end the dispute after the unionized workers voted twice this year to reject the OPG contract offer.

“We understand constitutional rights, but we’re here to talk about the lights — specifically, keeping them on,” said Rickford, adding it was “irresponsible” for the opposition New Democrats to try to prolong the strike.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, however, said the government has been “unnecessarily alarmist” about the possibility of a strike by OPG workers because it knows “that’s never going to happen” with the PC majority in the legislation easily able to pass the bill preventing any stoppage.

“The government didn’t even try to solve this problem … they went to the biggest hammer available,” said Horwath .

“There will be no rolling blackouts.”

New Democrats oppose the legislation because Horwath says it infringes on the Charter rights of workers to collective bargaining.

NDP MPPs refused to give unanimous consent for its passage Monday, meaning it will be debated Tuesday and Wednesday before the PC majority can get it through the house, likely by Thursday.

That means members, who rose Dec. 6 for the winter break, will be at Queen’s Park all week.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser blamed the Tories for the standoff, saying they “should have been doing more” to prevent the crisis.

“For 33 years we’ve never had a labour disruption with the generation of electricity, specifically with the nuclear plants,” said Fraser.

“People send us to Queen’s Park and say, ‘Take care of the things that are important to me.’”

Labour Minister Laurie Scott noted that 98 per cent of all union negotiations in Ontario are resolved at the bargaining table.

But Scott stressed the government had to intervene because OPG generates about half of the province’s electricity.

“We want to see a fair deal reached between the parties,” said Scott, adding her legislation “will remove the risk of widespread power outages and allow dispute resolution to happen appropriately.”

The 6,000 PWU members, who operate the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations as well as 66 hydroelectric stations, rejected OPG’s offer of a 6.6 per cent wage increase over three years.

On Friday, that triggered a 21-day period in which the utility and its employees take steps to begin shutting down the plants.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1


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WSIB to review old claims filed by Kitchener-Waterloo rubber plant workers


The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) says it intends to conduct a review of the more than 300 claims that have been filed since 2002 by people who worked at rubber plants in the Kitchener-Waterloo area which were not previously allowed.

Since 2002, the WSIB says it has received claims from people who worked in the rubber industry for several different companies. Those claims included people with various types of cancer.

READ MORE: Retired GE plant workers skeptical about review of occupational illness claims

“I am very deeply concerned by recent reports about the very serious health issues facing people who worked in the rubber industry in our community,” WSIB Chair Elizabeth Witmer said in a release.

“I have asked for a review to ensure we are applying the latest science and evidence to make decisions about these claims.”

The WSIB says claims made by both both cancer and non-cancer related claimants will be looked at.

READ MORE: WSIB reverses decision on 30 occupational disease claims against General Electric Peterborough

It will focus the reviews on claims where there is a newer or better understanding of the relationship between chemical exposure and some forms of cancer.


© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Postal workers delivering parcels 7 days a week ahead of Christmas, union says


Postal workers in Canada are delivering parcels seven days a week to ensure they will be in time for the holidays, says Canada Post’s largest union.

Mike Palecek, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), said in an email on Monday that union members are working every day of the week following weeks of rotating strikes across the country. The union was legislated back to work on Nov. 27.

Palecek said the union cannot confirm a claim made by Canada Post in a statement on Saturday that the company has a backlog of six million parcels. Canada Post has said it cannot guarantee packages will be delivered in time for the holidays because of the backlog.

« If a six-million parcel backlog exists, it has nothing to do with CUPW rotating strikes, and sounds more like poor planning from Canada Post to deliver the holidays, » he said.

Minister names mediator-arbitrator

In a statement on its website on Monday, the union said federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu has appointed Elizabeth MacPherson as mediator-arbitrator in the dispute. The government indicated in legislation that it would do so.

« Your negotiating committee did everything possible to avoid this legislation, » the union said.

« However, because of the legislation, we will work with the mediator-arbitrator to attempt to negotiate good collective agreements and avoid arbitration. We believe in our right to free collective bargaining but we will reluctantly participate in this legislated process. »

The Canada Post logo is seen on the outside a processing centre. Two weeks after the federal government legislated an end to rotating strikes by Canada Post employees, it has appointed a mediator-arbitrator to bring an end to the labour dispute. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Palecek said CUPW negotiators are still at a downtown hotel in Ottawa, where they have been since July, to work out collective agreements for their members. 

Canada Post negotiators leave, union says

He said Canada Post negotiators have left the premises.

« Canada Post moved out of the hotel over the weekend, giving us the impression that they have given up on collective bargaining and will simply wait for the arbitrator-mediator to impose agreements on our members, » he said.

« CUPW remains fully committed to achieving negotiated settlements that ensure the health and safety of our members and equality for all workers. »

Since the strikes officially ended, protests have taken place outside some Canada Post facilities. Palecek said the pickets have been organized by other unions in support of postal workers.

« CUPW has not organized any pickets. Our members are back at work. We do not know when or where our allies may demonstrate solidarity with postal workers being legislated back to work, » he said.

Inventory nearly triple last year’s

On Saturday, Canada Post said in a statement that the backlogged parcels are in postal yards and off-site locations across the country.

« Our employees are doing excellent work, but backlogs and heavy incoming volumes of parcels and continued illegal picketing is impacting our ability to keep up, » the corporation said.

« Our inventory is almost three times the level it was last year, with only three weeks until Christmas. »

It said parcel deliveries are continuing but will be delayed during the holiday season and into January.

Canada Post said there are delays of up to several weeks for parcels arriving from other countries, with the delays expected to diminish throughout December, and there may be « modest delays » for some parcels leaving Canada for other countries.

As for letter mail, the corporation said the backlog should be cleared and deliveries made in time for Christmas.

According to CUPW, the union wants better pay and job security, guaranteed hours for its 8,000 rural and suburban carriers, and equality for those workers with the corporation’s 42,000 urban employees. It also wants Canada Post to adopt rules that would address workplace injuries.


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WSIB staffers decry chaos caused by ‘broken’ system that’s putting injured workers at risk


Chronic understaffing, long wait times, and chaotic case management at Ontario’s workers’ compensation board are putting vulnerable accident victims at risk, compromising the integrity of the provincial compensation system, and jeopardizing financial accountability, according to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s own employees.

Staff made the criticisms in response to a September blog post by WSIB president Tom Teahen, which solicited feedback on whether the board was making Ontario a safer place to work, improving recovery for injured workers, meeting customers’ needs and acting in a financially responsible manner.

On all four counts, the 60 responses obtained by the Star through a Freedom of Information request, show the answer was overwhelmingly no.

“Accident rates are going up while resolutions to (injured worker) claims are going down,” said one employee. “There are not enough people to process work and queues keep piling up, while people that are disabled from a workplace injury are waiting for someone to get back to them. I find that embarrassing.”

In another post, an employee complained they were “frustrated” by delays faced by injured workers calling the board for help, some of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder. The employee said call wait times could sometimes mount to 20 minutes — enough time for “somebody to give up and take their own life.”

“It is not unheard of that clients complain of waiting in excess of 30 minutes to reach the right person,” said another. “If you can’t help an injured worker who’s (sic) literal livelihood depends on the WSIB within a reasonable time frame, that’s an incredible shortfall.”

The September blog post came in the wake of a new service delivery model — rolled out in July at the board — which aims to make the compensation claim process more effective and “help people recover and return to work quicker.” The change came in response to rising claim duration and recovery times.

Under the new model, injury claims no longer have a dedicated case manager. Instead, callers go into a general pool and are triaged based on the complexity of the case. The idea is that complex claims get more focused attention from experienced staff, while uncontentious claims are processed more efficiently.

WSIB chief operating officer Brian Jarvis said in an interview with the Star last week that the new model experienced some early “bumps on the road,” but said statistics already show 95 per cent of injured workers are now receiving compensation decisions within 10 days, up from 89 per cent in May, and that 60 per cent were back on the job in days, up from 51 per cent.

“We’re trying to help the injured workers that come to us every day who need our help and need our support and we’re seeing examples of how we’re doing better recently than we were prior to making these changes,” he said.

“The improvements were really designed to get the right people getting the right claims at the right time,” he added, noting other positive new changes included giving workers an option to upload documents electronically rather than using fax or mail.

In response to Teahen’s September blog, some board employees expressed skepticism.

“I beg you to look beyond the stats to ask questions about what is not being captured,” said one. “To really listen to what many of us are saying to you on this blog and realize the system is putting some of these workers at risk of being lost within the system.”

Statistics obtained by the Star through its Freedom of Information request, which also sought all records pertaining to the new service delivery model, show average call wait times were up from 39 seconds in 2017 to almost two-and-a-half minutes in 2018. Jarvis said wait times are now under two minutes “on most days.”

Numerous employees complained that losing ownership over claim files meant they had to start from scratch each time an injured worker or an employer called them.

“As all of our telephone conversations are recorded, there is no reason senior management would not (be) able to hear the stress, fear, anger and uncertainty that front-line staff hear every day,” said one employee.

“I continue to see obscenely long claims durations (which, of course, is not financially responsible) and an inability to attend to every claim to provide the service each worker, employer or provider deserve.”

“Please do not add further chaos to an already broken model,” said another.

While numerous employees said there was a need for change at the board, the vast majority raised significant concerns about the new approach — and more importantly, the lack of staff available to make it work.

Staff are “burning out due to the unmanageable caseloads yet we are being told to ‘do more with less.’ Not sure how that is humanly possible, ” said one employee, while another called the number of empty desks due to stress leave “staggering.”

“This work environment not only adds undue stress, it is teetering on compromising my professional standards, which I am not OK with,” added one registered nurse at the board.

The records obtained by the Star show that there has been a 33 per cent increase in allowed lost-time injury claims between 2015 and 2018, from 51,500 to almost 70,000 projected claims this year. But despite this increased volume, the number of front-line staff at the board fell by 9 per cent over the same period. There are currently 785 case managers and adjudicators at the board, down from 815 in 2015.

“We are drowning,” said one employee in response to Teahen’s blog.

Harry Goslin, president of the Ontario Compensation Employees Union, said he has “continued to raise concerns about rising work volumes.”

“The WSIB on the other hand maintains the view that there is not a workload problem,” he told the Star.

As previously reported by the Star, a January poll conducted by the union found that 90 per cent of the 263 employees surveyed said work-related stress was impacting their personal lives and 92 per cent attributed the workload issues to understaffing at the WSIB.

Asked if the board would commit to hiring more front-line staff, Jarvis said his organization would replace staff who retired or were moved within the organization, but said hiring was “based on the data that shows how much activities and claims we have.”

Subscribe to the Star to support reporting and analysis from award-winning reporters like Sara Mojtehedzadeh

Employees made clear in their responses to Teahen’s blog that they cared deeply about serving Ontarians and the integrity of the compensation system.

“Our founding father created a fair compensation system whereby workers gave up their right to sue their employers in exchange for a fair and compassionate system that adjudicated (a claim) on the basis of its own merit,” said one 30-year veteran.

“How can adjudicators make the best possible decisions if they are short-changed in training, do not have enough people to do the job, have unreasonable time frames, and have processes in place that short-change the worker?”

“We as the employees of WSIB do care about the outcomes for our workers and the experience they have,” added another.

“We want to be proud of where we work and say what good things we are doing. Right now I am not feeling that.”

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


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That ‘red tape’ Ford is cutting? It was meant to protect the environment, workers, lives


Pretty much everyone hates “red tape.” The problem is, we don’t all agree on what it is.

I mean, to me, the phrase calls to mind layers of useless paperwork that must be filled out in triplicate and filed in person to 27 different departments. Pointless administrative hassle. Who isn’t in favour of eliminating that?

But when legislation comes forward promising to slash red tape, it often looks like it’s taking aim at something else. In the case of Bill 66, the “Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act” introduced by the provincial government just before it broke for the rest of the year, it strips away regulations that are meant to protect us and our environment, and in some cases to save lives.

The omnibus bill quietly plans to amend dozens of pieces of existing legislation affecting 12 different ministries, all to “cut red tape that’s standing in the way” of “making Ontario competitive again.”

Sounds harmless enough.

Looking closer, that all doesn’t sound so harmless.

Some areas jump out as particularly needing more thought:

Child-care protections: Bill 66 changes the number of babies — children under the age of 2 — that can be cared for by a single adult in an unlicensed home-based daycare from two to three. The existing regulation came into effect in 2015, after children died in unlicensed daycares. Removing barriers to more daycare spots is a worthy goal, but not if it sacrifices the safety of small children.

Environmental and planning protections: The bill would allow municipalities to pass bylaws under the Ford government’s beloved “Open For Business” slogan (literally, they would be called “open for business planning bylaws”) that would exempt developers of commercial or industrial uses such as factories from a whole slew of regulations. Among them are those contained in the Greenbelt Act and the Places to Grow Act, the environmental protection anti-sprawl legislation that Ford famously promised not to touch during the election campaign. Another set of rules it could exempt developers from are those that protect the Great Lakes and other sources of drinking water, including the Clean Water Act, which was brought into force after the Walkerton tragedy that killed seven people and sickened thousands of others through contaminated drinking water. The bill also repeals the Toxics Reduction Act meant to reduce pollution by preventing industrial uses of certain toxic chemicals.

Subscribe to the Star to support reporting and analysis from award-winning columnists like Edward Keenan.

And it allows municipalities passing such bylaws to skip the normal processes of providing public notice and holding hearings before exempting developers from all these laws.

Labour protections: Among other changes weakening employee protections, this bill would exempt municipalities, hospitals, universities and other big public institutions from rules requiring them to use unionized contractors for infrastructure projects. If the government wants to debate the merits of collective bargaining, it can do so, but it shouldn’t sneak big changes to worker protections through on the misleading premise that it is just clearing away red tape.

The provincial government claims to be doing all of this to help create jobs, which is another goal we all like in theory. But in pursuit of that goal, we can’t just throw out the rules meant to protect human lives and the environment that sustains us.

This bill, contrary to its claims, isn’t just addressing administrative runarounds and costly paperwork. It is eliminating or exempting companies from rules that were put in place to save lives — in many cases, after the real threat to human life was made tragically clear. Our children, our drinking water, our labour protections, our environment — these things are too important to be waved away in an omnibus overhaul of regulations. When the legislature comes back in February, this bill requires much debate and revision. Cut the red tape, sure. But don’t cut our safety.

Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire


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