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April 9, 2008

Labour groups want WSIB chief out

Star series spurs advocates to demand new board for safety agency, but chair calls plea disappointing

"Ontario labour groups are asking Premier Dalton McGuinty to fire the chair and executive board of the provincial workplace safety agency in the wake of a Star series on its flawed safety rebate program."

Moira Welsh
David Bruser

Staff Reporters

Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour said he was "stunned" to read Steve Mahoney, chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, say he did not know the extent of the problems within the rebate system.

"This is an issue we have been raising with the Board for over a decade," Samuelson wrote in the letter to McGuinty. "Surely the Chair and the entire Board of Directors were aware of the serious deficiencies in the ... system and the resulting injuries and deaths that have been sustained by workers while rewarding employers with lavish rebates."

Last Saturday, the Star's ongoing investigation into worker safety, Working Wounded, revealed that one arm of the provincial government has been giving financial rewards to companies that have been prosecuted for worker deaths by another arm of the government.

The WSIB, the province's insurance agency for injured workers and employers, had been paying out financial rebates to companies, even though they were responsible for the deaths of workers.

In many cases, the rebates were higher than the penalties imposed upon them by the Ministry of Labour.

On March 10, after the Star raised questions about the rebate program, Mahoney announced a 30-day review, and declared a moratorium on payouts for deaths. He later said the review would unfold over the next 12 months.

A notice on the WSIB website says, "If a company is responsible for a workplace fatality, they won't be eligible for a rebate from the WSIB in that year."

Most companies receive rebates over a three-year period.

In a story published this week, Mahoney said there has to be more accountability.

"I didn't realize that we were paying out those kinds of bonuses to companies that are breaking the law, and when I saw that, I said. `This is nonsense,'" Mahoney said.

In an interview last night, Mahoney said he stands by his comments.

"I was absolutely not aware that at the same time as the ministry was levelling fines against companies, that they were receiving rebates from us. It is very recent that I was made aware of that."

Mahoney also has asked his staff to push up their reporting on the death/rebates and expects to hear back from them within two weeks.

Of the call for his resignation, Mahoney said, "I find it really grandstanding and disappointing that they would take that approach, especially since we have agreed to conduct a major review and have frozen these kinds of rebates that are going to companies responsible for that."

In a press conference scheduled for this morning, Samuelson, along with Steve Mantis of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups and Marion Endicott from the Injured Workers' Consultants Legal Clinic, will call for the end of the employer incentive program, and a new board of directors.

"In scores of meetings we have raised this issue of the flawed employer incentive program called experience rating. The Chair of the Board has been aggressively defending the experience rating system since being appointed. For him to suggest at any time that he did not know this was going on does not ring true," reads the letter, signed by Samuelson, Mantis and Endicott.

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