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June 10, 2007

Injured workers make themselves heard

Delegation meets with Labour Minister Steve Peters

By Letizia Tesi
Tandem Online News

The first song was dedicated to Tony Almeida, the TTC employee killed on April 23 while working in a subway tunnel between Lawrence and Eglinton. He was just the latest victim of a workplace accident, the latest in a long list that every year includes no fewer than 250,000 injured workers, which equals one every 12 seconds. June 1 was Injured Workers Day, and about 450 injured workers rallied in front of Queen’s Park, asking for more equitable policies and more dignified standards of living.

One of these was Emma, 67, who has been injured twice. “I haven’t received any disability for the past two years, and I am not entitled to a pension. I have no health insurance. I must pay for everything out of my pocket, and I can’t go on like this. Politicians gave themselves a 25 percent raise while we got a ‘consolation prize’ of 0.7 percent. It’s a shame.”

Antonio, on the other hand, still gets a pension even though he’s over 65, because in 1983, following his second injury, he underwent a major operation, and since then he’s carrying two metal rods and 17 screws that support his right ankle. All the same, he can’t make ends meet. What he receives isn’t enough to live on and keep the house he built with his 30 years of work. “The cost of living keeps going up, while my pension has been the same for the past 12 years. Getting to the end of each month requires paying attention to everything, and despite never affording any extra I’m forced to sell my home. I worked 35 years in this country,” said Antonio with much bitterness in his voice, “and in the end all I get is little more than a pittance.”

Luigi suffered 13 injuries and five surgeries. Since his last accident, he’s been unable to walk without a walker. He is considered 75 percent disabled, but he does not regard that as realistic. “In my condition,” he said, “I should get 90 or even 95 percent disability.”

Luigi is still fighting for his claims, suing the school where he worked as a janitor, but he has lost hope in politicians and their promises, like those made by Labour Minister Steve Peters when he came down to meet the rally participants. One solid fact is the 7.5 percent raise that the Government of Ontario has approved for the coming 18 months; however, injured workers claim that this does not cover the losses they suffered in previous years. “We don’t want to sound ungrateful,” explained Orlando Buonastella, member of the Toronto Injured Workers Advocacy Group and of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups, “but losses amount to 25 percent, while the raise is only 7 percent.”

Promises include the elimination of ‘deeming,’ a reduction of disability payments that the government computes on the basis of the theoretical pay that an injured worker could conceivably gain if he found employment. This is a “phantom” employment, according to injured workers, because three quarters of them can never find a job again.

Minister Peters said that ‘deeming’ would be dealt with by the Workers Safety and Insurance Board. “But we’ve been raising the issue with the Board since 1990, and nothing changed,” insisted Buonastella. “It’s a challenge; let’s hope that this time the WSIB will follow the directive of the government. We appeal to their sense of justice; but we want facts, not more words.”

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