43e législature, 1e session

L090B - Tue 26 Sep 2023 / Mar 26 sep 2023

 

The House recessed from 1743 to 1759.

Private Members’ Public Business

WSIB Coverage for Workers in Residential Care Facilities and Group Homes Act, 2023 / Loi de 2023 sur la protection à accorder aux travailleurs dans les établissements de soins en résidence et les foyers de groupe par la Commission de la sécurité professionnelle et de l’assurance contre les accidents du travail

Mr. Fraser moved second reading of the following bill:

Bill 54, An Act to amend the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 / Projet de loi 54, Loi modifiant la Loi de 1997 sur la sécurité professionnelle et l’assurance contre les accidents du travail.

The Acting Speaker (Mme Lucille Collard): Pursuant to standing order 100, the member has 12 minutes for his presentation.

Mr. John Fraser: I want to begin by saying it’s a pleasure, again, today to rise to debate Bill 54, a bill to provide WSIB coverage to workers in retirement homes, residential care centres and group homes.

In the gallery today, we’ve got a bunch of people who were with me this morning who are developmental service workers and personal service workers who came out this morning to tell their stories. I just want to recognize them right now for who’s here. We have Andrea Gordon, who is a developmental service worker and group home worker; Erica Valentine, who is also a developmental service worker; Sandee Green, another developmental service worker; Michael Spitale from the Service Employees International Union. As well, we have Mira Ponomarenko, who is a health care coordinator, and Carol Bartley-Fray, who is a cook in a retirement home, and they both were here to tell their stories and stories of their colleagues. Also here are Ian DeWaard and Julie Garner with the Christian Labour Association of Canada. Both of those organizations represent these workers.

I was really thankful that they were able to join me this morning because it’s important that we tell this story—we tell their stories. It was very important. This is the fifth time I’ve introduced this bill—five times. This has been Bill 145, Bill 49, Bill 194, Bill 16 and Bill 54. We debated it in 2017 and it passed second reading with support from everybody across the aisle. It’s a good bill. It’s an important bill.

Today is the second time we’re going to be debating this after it being introduced five times. We’ve kept the bill on the order paper because it’s an important bill. It’s about fairness. It’s about justice. We’ve also kept it on the order paper because of the work of the people in the gallery and their colleagues to keep it alive. They are the motivation for doing this. They collected over 10,000 signatures on a petition to see this change.

The bill ensures that workers doing the same work in residential care settings are treated fairly and have the protections of WSIB. Too many workers in retirement homes and group homes still don’t have the protections they deserve. These are people who care for the people we care for most: our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and relatives and neighbours who have a developmental exceptionality, a physical exceptionality. They require hands-on care, and the people who do this care are the people in the gallery and their colleagues, and they’re there every day. They’re there for us and for our families.

It’s hard work. It’s work that has a lot of risk. It’s easy to be injured. And we have a situation where if you work in a long-term-care home or a hospital with the same kind of risks, you’ve got WSIB coverage. So why is it that people taking the same risks don’t get coverage just simply because their employer is different?

We created WSIB in this province for a reason: to protect workers.

Mr. Robert Bailey: Under a Conservative government.

Mr. John Fraser: Yes, under a Conservative government. I heard somebody say that. Yes, that’s right. We all did it together because it’s the right thing to do. I think the intent behind it, including my colleagues across the aisle and my colleagues beside me, was to try to protect as many people as we possibly could, to make sure that if something happened to you, your family was going to be okay and you were going to be okay. We have a situation here where we don’t have the backs of these people who are taking big risks caring for the people who we love. It doesn’t make any sense. This is something we did together, as an assembly, as successive governments; created this to protect people.

So there are two principles of fairness that guide this bill:

(1) Again, doing the same work in similar settings should have the same coverage. It’s only fair. They’re taking the same risks.

(2) WSIB is income security. That’s what it is. And collectively, we’ve created this large organization—which, by the way, right now, no longer has an unfunded liability, and we’ve been returning money to employers. Maybe we should have some balance in that and think about who we should be protecting. That’s what we need to do.

So here’s the difference: WSIB covers 85% of wages, and most insurance plans, two thirds or less. You get non-economic awards for permanent injuries, compensation for loss of retirement income, direct payments for medical needs such as physio. Now just imagine this: You’re making $22 an hour. You get injured at work. That’s probably a good wage in some cases. And you’ve got to pay $150 for physio and wait to be reimbursed. It makes it hard to buy groceries. With WSIB, the payment is direct. It helps people recover quicker. It helps them with their medical needs. There are strong return-to-work programs, and there is a clear appeal process. You know who to go to. You’re not dependent on an employer to fight for you, whether they decide to or not.

Here’s the thing I think that’s most important: Many of these workers are women, and many of these workers have more than one job—sometimes three jobs. If you get injured on one job on insurance, you’ll get the two thirds for that one job, but the other two, you’re out of luck. WSIB covers all of your income. That’s a really important principle to remember here.

We’re asking these women and men to care for people that we love, some of whom, because of the nature of what afflicts them, can become agitated, can injure people—not because they intend to, but because it can’t be helped. And if you were able to listen to some of the stories this morning about how people who are covered by insurance were injured for eight months, had a hard time feeding their family, or how people who were injured at work but didn’t report it because they’re not covered—they’re not going to go on—people are living paycheque to paycheque.

So when we go to vote on this bill and we go to debate this bill—and I know that there are some members across who were involved in that first debate who supported the bill, and I hope they will continue to support the bill this time around. In 2017, they spoke very clearly and unequivocally in support of it. Here’s the thing: It’s the second time we’re debating this bill. It’s the fifth time it’s going to be introduced. I don’t want to have to introduce it a sixth time or a seventh time or an eighth time.

We should just simply do the right thing and support these workers. They’re doing a lot for us and our families, and they’re doing a lot that we can’t do, and we depend on them. So we have to say to them: You can depend on us. If you get injured at work, we’ll make sure your family is okay, just like you’re making sure our family is okay, that my mom isn’t falling in her retirement home, that my adult brother who has autism doesn’t hurt himself or doesn’t get lost because I’m not there. That’s what we’re talking about here. These are the people we should be helping. They’re helping us.

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This is a straightforward bill. We should pass it today. I’m not going to give up, they’re not going to give up, and the right thing for members of this Legislature to do today is pass this bill to second reading. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s tell all these workers who have our backs, who have our families’ backs, that we have their back because we have this thing that we created as successive governments that’s there to protect workers, that’s there to have their back, that’s there to make sure that nobody gets cast aside because they get hurt at work. It’s our job to have these people’s backs; they have ours.

I look forward to the debate. Thank you very much, Speaker.

The Acting Speaker (Mme Lucille Collard): Further debate?

MPP Lise Vaugeois: Thank you to the member for Ottawa South for your words and for bringing this bill back. It’s a very important bill, a simple bill, and I hope very much to see it pass today as well.

I do have some thoughts about the WSIB and what it does and doesn’t do. At its best, the WSIB should have the backs of workers, and I hope very much that developmental service workers, that PSWs under their various names receive this support. If it goes to committee, I would also like to recommend that those who do home care as PSWs are also explicitly named so that they are part of this bill.

Now, it’s interesting to me that when you spoke, you said 1997, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and that’s the year it was changed from being the Workers’ Compensation Board and when many things about WSIB and the direction it has taken since then happened. That was actually during the Mike Harris government, I believe.

There is a solid appeals process. But I can tell you that many, many people are turned down when they first apply. That shouldn’t be the case. What is actually happening is that at WSIAT, so at the appeals level, 80% of people who are turned down the first time are either getting partially approved or 100% approved at the appeals level, and what that tells you is that the decisions that are being made on the first level are not being made with justice for workers in mind. Those denials are there in order to discourage workers from continuing to pursue what they are entitled to have, the supports they should have and the supports that should be there.

As the member mentioned, often with a private insurance company you have to wait. You’ve got to submit your forms and so on. Now the WSIB was not supposed to be like that, but today it is being run as if it were a private insurance company.

That’s a serious issue, and it’s something that all of us need to continue to fight against and do something to really bring the WSIB back to what it was intended to be, which was support for workers in their time of need, not as a burden on their families and not as a burden on society. Often, unfortunately, what we see is, because so many workers are initially abandoned, they do wind up having to apply for ODSP. So it does become a public expense until that time that those appeals are heard and hopefully people get the support they’re entitled to. In fact, I hear from people who have applied to WSIB that they wind up with PTSD after going through the process because it’s so distressing. So there are very, very serious issues with the way WSIB is being run. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely crucial that people be included under the umbrella—because if you’re not included under the umbrella of the WSIB, then there is no recourse, there is no chance to appeal, there’s no chance to fight back. So that is absolutely essential.

As I say, I hope very much that this bill will get through this round and go to committee and that we can also make sure that home and community care workers are also named so that they are guaranteed to be under the same umbrella.

I came across an article that points out that there was supposed to be a Health and Supportive Care Providers Oversight Authority, which was tasked with creating structure for Ontario’s personal support worker landscape. The various goals included creating a registry of PSWs, establishing standards for both training and practice in the sector, and a logo that would identify care workers who have been properly prepared for the work. According to this article, which was from January 25 of this year, in the nearly two years since Bill 283 became law, those who provide and receive supportive care say that nothing has changed and an overhaul is desperately needed. The point of this article was that somebody who needs care and is not getting the level of care that he needs—but I want to point out that this is not because the workers are not trying to give that care. Some days, the writer says, a single personal support worker is assigned for all 17 residents in the home that he’s living in. Now, he requires a lift, but when you have only one person, generally, they can’t do the lift; they need two.

I’m going to stop here. I don’t want to take away time from my colleague.

This bill has my support. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

The Acting Speaker (Mme Lucille Collard): Further debate?

Mr. Adil Shamji: I’ll start by mentioning that I’ll be sharing my time with the member from Scarborough–Guildwood and possibly the member from Guelph.

I’m honoured to rise in support of Bill 54. This government claims that it is for the people, and so I expect this should be a very easy bill to pass, because it is a bill about fairness, it’s a bill about safety and it’s a bill about justice.

As it stands, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act leaves room for inequity because it protects some while leaving others out to dry. Many have pointed out the holes in this act, and during the pandemic it certainly became painfully clear that an indispensable group of workers fulfilling fundamental roles in the health and well-being of our most vulnerable could be excluded from WSIB coverage if they work in residential care facilities or in group homes. I am talking about the front-line workers this government called health care heroes—the personal support workers, the dietary aides, the housekeeping staff and other essential people who take care of our retired, aging and disabled population in residential care facilities or group homes. Whether these homes are public or private, they all are entitled to the same coverage under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act. How can we not care for the people who care for us?

I have had the opportunity to understand that health care is truly a dangerous field of work. I’ve seen it—the back injuries sustained by some of these workers, the injuries from violence.

And, of course, we all know, during the pandemic—especially with our PSWs who, without adequate equipment, were in close, prolonged contact with people who had COVID, because those places were in lockdown, and they showed up selflessly. So now won’t we show up for them?

Let’s pass this bill. Let’s bring all residential care facilities and group homes under the schedule 1 umbrella so they can be eligible for the timely, comprehensive WSIB coverage they deserve, because what’s good for workers is good for all of us.

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The Acting Speaker (Mme Lucille Collard): Further debate?

MPP Andrea Hazell: Madam Speaker, I rise to give my thanks and support to the member from Ottawa South for introducing this crucial piece of legislation.

“Bill 54 means healing from the physical and economic burdens of our injuries. Bill 54 means relief.” Those words were spoken this morning at Queen’s Park by Erica Valentine, a developmental service worker who cares for adults with autism in a group home. She needs and wants WSIB.

Listen to this: If her work was done in a hospital or a nursing home, she would have WSIB, but because her work was now done outside of institutional care and in a group home, she isn’t covered by WSIB.

For PSWs in retirement homes, and for DSWs in group homes, this is an injustice. They care for our families when we cannot. They are underpaid, especially after Bill 124. So the least we can do is make them eligible for WSIB.

These workers are asking us to make the words “health care heroes” mean something. I know that every member that is sitting here went through the pandemic, and we know the true meaning when we talk about health care heroes. They’re asking as to have their backs. I’m asking you: Let’s do that now—no more delays. Ontario Liberals have their backs. That’s why I am supporting Bill 54, because it’s the right policy, and it’s long overdue.

The Acting Speaker (Mme Lucille Collard): Further debate?

Mr. Deepak Anand: Madam Speaker, it’s always a pleasure to rise in this House and debate on important things we do in this House of responsibility.

The member from Ottawa South talked about the importance of WSIB—absolutely right. Yes, the WSIB coverage and support for workers is very important. It is something that our government under the leadership of our Premier has been working on since day one.

The previous Minister of Labour, Immigration and Skills Development—I call him the champion of workers. We have seen a lot of union support for our government because of his work and because our government is supporting workers as we build Ontario. So I want to take a moment to thank our former minister. He will be dearly missed.

We heard from the new minister yesterday, and it was clear from his address that he’s going to continue to support the workers of Ontario. I want to wish him the best of success to be the next champion of workers.

Madam Speaker, it is great and I want to say thank you to the member from Ottawa South for bringing a bill forward on this topic. I know that our minister has already spoken with stakeholders like Ian DeWaard, the Ontario director for Christian Labour Association of Canada, about this bill.

It is important to look at this bill in the context of what our government has done to support our valuable workers. I ask the member and everyone in the House to support the work the government is doing through the Working for Workers Act which is being debated nowadays and, in particular, the way we have made WSIB better support workers and provide better coverage.

The member talked about how important WSIB coverage is, and for that it has to be on sound financial footing. It may not sound that exciting to talk about the finances of the WSIB, but it is the foundation which makes everything else we’re doing possible. We went from a massive, unsustainable deficit to a solid surplus. Think about if there’s a worker who gets hurt and goes back to the WSIB, and there’s no money to help and support the worker.

Our government erased the unfunded liability that threatened the benefits injured workers rely on. In fact, the WSIB is now in one of the best financial shapes in their history. That has meant real benefit to the workers. Because of that sound financial footing, we were able to cut premiums when we saw that job creators, especially during COVID, might be forced to close because of the impact of the pandemic.

Madam Speaker, we know this: People need jobs, and jobs need people. That is why it is important for both job seekers and job creators to continue to work together and make sure that WSIB is on a good financial standing. That’s why we took action to protect jobs in communities across the province. We have kept premiums low. That’s one small part of our overall work that’s supporting a booming economy, creating good jobs and an economy where we have to fill over 300,000 jobs going unfilled.

We also delivered relief for not-for-profit organizations, the groups of people who come together to do good and, in turn, make sure the towns and the cities we live in—make them true communities. In 2019, they were faced with a premium increase. Many organizations would have seen their rates tripled. That would have made it difficult, maybe impossible, for many of these organizations to sustain, and they would not have sustained. We would not have seen their good work. We would not have gotten the benefit of their good work.

Not-for-profit organizations like the YMCA, the Royal Canadian Legion, religious organizations like soup kitchens, literacy centres—the list goes on, and I’m sure the members on this side and the other side as well must be thinking of the groups and organizations in their ridings that make life better, support veterans and give to those in need. That brings people together. These tend not to be wealthy organizations, Madam Speaker. These are the people who help, who struggle to fund their activities: to keep their Legion halls open, for example; to raise money for worthy causes. A large premium hike would have endangered their ability to do good, but our government stepped in. We stopped the rate hike for the not-for-profits, and they continue to make extraordinary contributions to our province in every community, so I want to take a moment to thank them for their good work.

To be clear, when we kept premiums low, including when they would have risen dramatically for job creators and service providers in 2021, we have always continued to fully support workers. For an example, in our Bill 238, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Amendment Act, we ensured that premiums would rise at a reasonable rate, not the job-killing 7.8% they otherwise would have, but that did not mean that the earning cap should be kept the same, no. At the same time, even if the rate did not increase, the earning cap for workers did increase by that 7.8%. Because we put the WSIB on solid footing, we are able to protect jobs and keep the benefits rising.

Madam Speaker, we’re here to support and help workers find better jobs and bigger paycheques, and not just about one thing or the other, but at the same time making sure we expand protection for our workers. I ask all members to remember the time when the former minister made a statement in this House about McIntyre Powder last November. It has been over 40 years since that substance was used, but the effect and the toll it took has very much stayed with us until today. The former minister noted that 25,000 miners, mostly in northern Ontario, did not have a choice; they were told that the substance would keep them safe, and instead it caused what it was supposed to prevent, leaving survivors dealing with lung diseases, Parkinson’s and other effects.

Our government declared Parkinson’s to be an occupational disease and helped and supported those miners. That means that the miners and their families could access compensation, and that is how we made sure we stood fast with our workers. It meant recognition that what businesses demanded of these workers was wrong. On behalf of the people of the province, the minister even apologized that the workers were not protected. All of us in this House and on this side, Madam Speaker, honour and remember the victims of that tragedy.

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Madam Speaker, I just want to add another thing about what we’re doing to help and support our workers; for an example, the firefighters. I’d like to echo what the Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development said yesterday right here in the chamber: These brave men and women are there for us in times of our greatest need. They put their lives on the line to save others. They run into burning buildings while everyone else runs away. We are forever thankful for their courage.

That is why we are helping, we’re supporting and we’re making it easier for them to get those benefits through the WSIB, by recognizing that pancreatic and thyroid cancers are work-related and presuming them to be so. And we’re not just doing it; we’re also retroactively going back to January 1, 1960. Those who have such cancers or who had them in the past can get the help they deserve.

I hope everyone in this chamber will support the work our government is doing.

Madam Speaker, again I want to thank the member for Ottawa South for raising an important topic. We need to act on the issue of supporting workers and ensuring that the WSIB is doing a good job providing coverage. That is why our government has been and will continue to move forward with our Working for Workers bills.

Support our measures to support and protect our workers, including our actions to make the WSIB better support firefighters, miners and not-for-profit organizations, and support our work to help people prepare for and find good jobs, to help workers find jobs and bigger paycheques, to ensure Ontario is the best place to live, work, raise a family and thrive.

I want to say thank you for listening. Thank you so much.

The Acting Speaker (Mme Lucille Collard): Further debate?

Miss Monique Taylor: I’m honoured—let’s start right there—I’m honoured to be able to participate on this bill, Bill 54, WSIB Coverage for Workers in Residential Care Facilities and Group Homes Act.

I would like to thank the workers who are here with us in the chamber today. I’ve had the opportunity to meet several of these workers before. Jackie Haynes, Sandee Green and Michael Spitale have been to my office, talking about this exact issue.

This morning, I also had the opportunity to meet some workers from Grace Villa in my own riding of Hamilton Mountain and welcome them all here to the Legislature today and say thank you and congratulations for the hard work, for years, that they have put into trying to push this legislation forward for the betterment of workers.

Now we’ve listened in the Legislature today to the government’s response to this bill, continuing to revert back to the Working for Workers bills. We just actually passed one of them in this Legislature today. There have been several of them brought forward by the Minister of Labour that could have included this WSIB coverage for vulnerable workers. Let’s not beat around the bush here: It’s mainly women, many women of colour, who work on these jobs taking care of other vulnerable people in our communities, whether it be seniors, people with disabilities, cognitive disabilities. They work hard. They put their bodies at risk every day to protect somebody else’s body, whether it’s moving them from a bed space, moving them from toileting, being hurt because there is, say, dementia or autism or something that could have somebody act out and cause physical harm to these same workers.

These workers are the workers that we should be cherishing, that we should be admiring. They should have the best of the best paycheques, which they do not. They should have automatic WSIB coverage.

This should not be a bill that we are having to debate once again. Five times this has been to the floor. I congratulate the member from Ottawa South for continuing to bring this bill forward. I have also met with SEIU. I know how encouraged they are to get this done. When they talked to me about it, the one addition that they did ask for was that adult day programs were included in this, to ensure that those workers had the protection also.

Not ensuring that all workers in the province of Ontario have WSIB coverage is a disservice to the same people that the government claims they are working for. Like I said, we’ve had three Working for Workers bills before this House that could have included meaningful legislation that would make a world of a difference to these workers who literally put themselves in harm’s way to protect another person. We should have gratitude. We should be thanking them for doing this.

Instead, in I believe the first Working for Workers bill, where we had a surplus in the WSIB funds, they gave them back to the employers when instead they could have broadened the scope of the WSIB folks, people who could have been included, and included these same workers in that. Instead of giving it away to employers who did not need that money back, they could have expanded the scope of WSIB workers.

And while I’m here, with just over a minute left, I’ve also met with OPSEU workers, correctional youth workers who are begging for WSIB coverage. These folks work hard for our community. They are public servants who also have been left out of the WSIB because they are two-tiered. They have an “Apples to Apples” campaign, the OPS and the BPS. Both of them have different rules when it comes to WSIB.

I did not hear an answer from the government across. I am hoping that they will be supporting this bill, that this bill will go to committee, that we can actually have the workers who work in the field come to committee, provide presentations, educate the members opposite on what really working for workers means, and provide them WSIB coverage to ensure that when they are hurt because they have taken care of one of our loved ones, we treat them with respect and we provide them the dignity of WSIB coverage. Even though it’s not great, it’s still better than paying for insurance when you think about it. Paying for that insurance every single month when they’re already not making great paycheques is very difficult.

Like I said, congratulations. Thank you for your tenacity. Thank you for keeping up this work. So many workers in this province will benefit because of the work that you do. We hope that this government sees it forward, passes it today, gets it to committee, gets you in there to tell you how to make this bill better and makes sure that the people in this province—

The Acting Speaker (Mme Lucille Collard): Thank you. Further debate?

The member for Ottawa South has two minutes to reply.

Mr. John Fraser: To the member from Thunder Bay–Superior North, thanks for your comments. WSIB does need improvements, but it’s a heck of a lot better than what they have right now. That’s why we have this bill.

Member from Hamilton Mountain, thank you for being a champion. Thank you for supporting this bill. Some of your advice is very helpful. I’m happy to work on this. We should get this to second reading.

To my colleagues from Scarborough–Guildwood and Don Valley East, thanks for your support. You know what’s important; I know that.

To the member from Mississauga–Malton, sometimes they send you to do things that you may not be comfortable doing. Maybe you are. I didn’t really quite understand what you were saying, simply because you weren’t talking about these workers. That’s who we’re here to talk about, the people who take risks. We need to have their back. They’re watching. They need to know that you know that they’re there, that you know what they do. So it was unfortunate.

I would like to say to the member from Whitby, who had two minutes left on the clock, that I would have liked to have listened to you say the same things you said in 2017—which I read over again last night—when you voted in support of this same bill. So I’m hoping that you and your caucus colleagues will actually follow your words of 2017 and do what’s right by these workers, make sure that we have their back, make sure that we protect their families, because those are the things that you said, and it’s the work that you’ve done before.

What I’m looking for and what I expect is for the government to support this bill, and if you don’t, all those words in 2017, well, they didn’t mean anything. Thank you.

The Acting Speaker (Mme Lucille Collard): The time provided for private members’ public business has expired.

Mr. Fraser has moved second reading of Bill 54, An Act to amend the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.

Is it the pleasure of the House that the motion carry? I heard a no.

All those in favour of the motion, please say “aye.”

All those opposed, please say “nay.”

In my opinion, the nays have it.

A recorded vote being required, it will be deferred until the next instance of deferred votes.

Second reading vote deferred.

The Acting Speaker (Mme Lucille Collard): All matters relating to private members’ public business having been completed, this House stands adjourned until 9 a.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, September 27, 2023.

The House adjourned at 1841.