Injured Workers’ Day a fight for basic rights

Protestors denounce cuts to medication, call for improved working conditions

By Elena Serra

“We’ve been coming here for 27 years. How much longer do we have to fight?”
It was an emotional day on Tuesday June 2 at Queen’s Park at the annual Injured Workers’ Day event.
Anger, hope, sadness, a willingness to do battle – it was all there, on the faces of those who crowded the parliament buildings’ front lawn carrying flags and banners.
About 300,000 individuals experience an on the job injury each year in Ontario.
“One in five lost their jobs,” read a placard.
Another read: “One quarter of them lost their automobiles.”
Yet another reads: “Kill the worker. Go to jail.”
Speeches were preceded with an introduction by the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups (ONIWG).
Then things heated up as the determination of the participants surfaced – they’re fighting for basic rights:
“There’s an elephant at Queen’s Park, and it’s the Auditor’s Report,” said a speaker.
It is guilty of having declared a crisis, despite having $15 million, which will result in almost certain further cuts for those who have been injured on the job in Ontario.
Among the crowd crying “shame, shame” were representatives from Hamilton, London, the UFCW, the Ontario Nurse’s Association, Women of Inspiration, and various Chinese and Latin-American communities.
Even passersby stop to listen to the stories about average people for whom life changed permanently in an instant, and now find themselves having to eat in soup kitchens, or use lanterns because they can’t afford to pay the Hydro bill.
“All that because they’re concerned about poverty,” a speaker declared. “Not yours but that of the Workers Compensation Board, which wants to save on costly medication. But is it possible that this is taking place in a country such as Canada, which is part of the G8?”
Orlando Buonastella, Injured Workers’ Consultant, has participated in all 27 editions of the event.
“The atmosphere is very tense,” he told Corriere Canadese/Tandem. “And the Auditor’s Report represents for us a truly unexpected adversary that will now be cited by everyone as justification for this terrible situation.”
Notwithstanding this, Buonastella hopes Premier McGuinty will reconsider and provide the injured with the funds necessary to meet medical expenses and to have a dignified life, “and I hope the Italian-Canadian MPPs do their part.”
He added, “In Ontario alone, we have about one death per day on the job, and hundreds of thousands of injuries per year.”
Of significance was also a call for improved on the job controls for accident prevention: “We often have to explain to people why the employer cannot be sued,” says Buonastella. “But the employers were the first ones to have bled the system because they didn’t want to pay so much for their employees.”
Though the people were grateful for his appearance, Labour Minister Peter Fonseca’s comments were met with scepticism when he called for “the participation of all to improve the situation.”
Following the minister’s speech was Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), who stated that “the system doesn’t work, and we cannot allow any political party or government to mislead us.”
The most controversial speech was surely that of Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) president Steven Mahoney who did, however, express the willingness of his colleagues to improve the situation:
“The Board’s task is attaining economic stability to be able to provide aid to our grandchildren if they were ever to be in need, but it’s also helping the injured who in Ontario are now in need of us.”

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