'Having unsafe workplaces isn't a cost of doing business in the province'
Over the last few months, the Ontario government has been rolling out measures aimed at improving worker safety in the province. On Tuesday, the Ontario government announced that it was launching its first-ever review into Ontario’s occupational illness system. The independent review will be run by the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
“My commitment is to build a better WSIB system that works for workers in Ontario. Over the last year, I’ve been meeting repeatedly with injured workers, their families, to hear their stories and listen to their concerns,” says Minister Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development to COS.
Though he lauds Ontario as having “one of the best occupational health and safety records in Canada,” he also says that “too many workers are still falling through the cracks and it’s clear the system isn’t working for everyone.”
McNaughton says that the government has given the MAP Centre a “broad mandate” with hopes for a very fast turnaround. The report is due back by the end of the year. “It’s a priority for me,” says the Minister. “We’ve done a lot of change at the WSIB over the last number of months. We brought in a new leadership team there, and this review is just one of a series of changes we’re making in the organization.”
The Centre will look at the role of the WSIB in the occupational illness system, and how these illnesses are identified, monitored and prevented. They will also look at compensation practices and a whole host of other issues that were raised by Dr. Paul Demers’ report in 2020.
“I just don’t think this system is working for workers,” says Minister McNaughton. “The other issue, and I see this as an injustice, is that there are people waiting decades for compensation and that’s not right. No one should be waiting 40 years for justice and compensation. That’s why we want to move forward as quickly as possible with ensuring that we have a WSIB system, and an occupational illness system, that works better for workers and their families.”
As well as this review, the Ontario government will also be rolling out new safety legislation. The Working for Workers Act 2 received Royal Assent on Monday this week.
“My message to businesses out there is that breaking the law and having unsafe workplaces isn’t a cost of doing business in the province. That’s why we’ve moved forward with the highest health and safety fines for those rule breakers. We want to ensure that we have the safest workplaces in all of North America.”
He says that this new legislation sends a message that employers have to have a safe work environment for all workers. McNaughton says that since he was picked as Minister of Labour in June 2019, he picked a side “and it’s the side of workers.” He says that the government wants to create a better environment for workers, with the other side of the coin being that there is a labour shortage in Ontario, so it is in the province’s best interest to create safer workplaces. “Anything that we can do to make Ontario a better place to work is going to go a long way to filling labour shortages. The priority is to protect workers, but there’s also an economic benefit too.”