Update on Injured Ontario Workers and Bill 148

Injured workers who currently receive benefits under the provincial Workplace Safety and Insurance (WSI) program should be aware of proposed changes to Ontario employment and labour law, including changes that are feared by injured workers’ advocacy groups to impact the level of WSI benefit entitlement.

In mid-July 2017, the Ontario Ministry of Labour announced that it intended to create more opportunity and security for workers through its Bill 148, which is the proposed Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017.

Among the proposed changes is an increase in the minimum wage across the province, to $15 per hour, and taking steps to ensure part-time workers are paid the same hourly wage as full-time workers.

To examine the impact of these proposed amendments, the province subsequently undertook a two-week consultation on Bill 148, and established a Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.  The Committee travelled to 10 communities to hear from residents and business owners, and conducted a clause-by-clause review of the Bill.

That Committee heard from advocacy groups for injured workers, specifically those who are currently receiving WSI benefits for wage loss due to workplace-related injuries or illnesses.  Those groups’ concern focuses on the interplay between the WSI Board’s practice of “determining” or “deeming” the wage-levels of injured workers who would otherwise be employed, and the level of WSI benefits that those workers are entitled to receive.

Specifically, these advocacy groups note that if the minimum wage is increased to $15 per hour as proposed by Bill 148, then injured workers currently on WSI benefits could see those benefits decrease, based on the Board’s determination of what income such workers might otherwise earn were it not for their work-related illness or injury.   The full impact of the proposed minimum-wage increase on existing WSI benefit entitlements was the subject of a formal submission to the Standing Committee.

It should be emphasized that the changes proposed under Bill 148 – which affect a broad swath of employment and labour issues – have not yet been finalized; on August 21, 2017, the Standing Committee has adopted at least some of the suggested improvements inspired by the stakeholders’ input on various topics.  Those amendments will be reported back to the Ontario Legislature when it resumes sitting on September 11, 2017.