On this Injured Workers Day, in the midst of COVID-19, Canada’s unions are calling on all levels of government to do more to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths, and to strengthen the workers’ compensation system.
The current pandemic presents a monumental challenge in the fight to prevent workplace injury, illness and death. As Canadian jurisdictions begin to open up sectors of their economy, it is critical that working people have the protections they need to be able to do their jobs safely and to get home to their loved ones at the end of each day.
Workers are on the front lines of this pandemic and yet do not always have the protections they need to stay safe.
The first priority is to prevent worker exposures, illness and deaths from COVID-19. However, workers also need to know that their workers’ compensation system will provide adequate benefits and supports if they become ill as a result of their work.
This requires broadening coverage to include all workers – including those in workplaces currently exempt from mandatory compensation coverage, as well as precarious and gig economy workers.
It also requires ensuring coverage for workers who must be quarantined or have to self-isolate as a result of a workplace exposure but may not yet have symptoms of the illness. This will require streamlining processes for workers and protecting the right to appeal decisions. This will further require the removal of systemic financial incentives for employer claims suppression related to COVID-19 infections.
Governments should also implement presumptive compensation coverage for COVID-19 related illness, so that workers are not denied access to supports, waiting for their claims to be accepted.
So far, only the province of British Columbia has moved towards implementing presumptive compensation coverage for some frontline workers, recognizing that streamlining the process for accessing supports will result in better health outcomes and safer return to work for workers at higher risk of COVID-19 infection.
Other Canadian jurisdictions must move quickly to do the same in order to ensure that workers have the supports and compensation they need when their work makes them sick.