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Workplace injury pay now applies to foreign workers even if they return to their home country
Before the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board's rule change, many temporary foreign workers struggled to receive adequate compensation if injured on the job and could not return to their original position. FILE PHOTO

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s new measures to help foreign agricultural workers recover from an on-the-job-injury is a good move, but doesn’t go far enough, says the Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario.

On May 15, the board announced that it had completed a nine-month review of its practices and that measures are now in place to offer benefits to workers who are injured on the job to include those who have to leave the country while on the mend.

“These are some of the most vulnerable people working in Ontario today and we owe it to them to be there if they get hurt on the job,” said Jeff Lang, president and CEO of the board, in a press release. 

“These are people who come to work on our farms, grow our food, and contribute to our economy. If they get hurt while they do it, the (board) is also changing how it reviews suitable available work in the job market,” he said.

Previously, if a temporary foreign worker was injured on the job and could not return to their original position, the obligation from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board — as the board itself previously interpreted the legislation — was to adjust their income replacement payments based on suitable and available work only in Ontario.

The issue, however, is that temporary foreign workers must leave the country when injured because current visa requirements do not accommodate mobility of employment — they cannot change jobs.

As a result of the board’s review, its replacement payment policy has now been amended.

“Effective immediately, that obligation is now being interpreted to mean suitable and available work in the person’s home job market,” stated the press release.

This means workers can return to their home country and have benefits reviewed on the basis of available and suitable work there.

While applauding that change, Industrial Accident Victims Group of Ontario has its own interpretation of who will qualify for these out-of-country benefits.

It believes there will still be thousands of temporary workers who will not qualify for a home-market benefit payment review if they are forced to leave.

“It is a good first step,” said Jessica Ponting, a community legal worker with the victims group. “But the (board) needs to include all migrant workers employed under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. It doesn’t get them all, it gets some.”

The “some,” Ponting said, are workers who do seasonal agricultural work.

These are workers required to leave the country following each growing season by the middle of December.

The “all,” she added, are other temporary foreign workers who work in primary agriculture but are not required to leave the country in December.

“They come on a different Temporary Foreign Worker Program because they are not seasonal,” she said.

“They are usually two multiple-year contracts but they are still temporary, and they are still tied to (one) employer,” she said. “There is no labour mobility. So behind the logic of the (board) decision, it should apply to them as well.”

The topic of labour mobility, however, is on the federal government’s radar.

In a report obtained by The Lake Report in late April, the feds have proposed changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that will allow for labour mobility.

This will allow temporary foreign workers to change jobs without having to apply for new work permits, giving workers more control over selecting the jobs and employers they want to work for after arriving in Canada without threat of repercussions.

However, the federal government is planning a phased-in approach to the changes — though, not before holding a number of face-to-face meetings with stakeholders.

It is expected this process will take up to three years before anything on the topic becomes law.


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