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Thứ Sáu, 1 tháng 11, 2013

Getting To Know The Union Of Injured Workers

 by Tony Thuong Vinh Nguyen

The article, “Getting to Know the Union of Injured Workers (UIW)” was written by me in October, 1986, during a student placement at an agency.  Since then, I joined the UIW as a member.  At the time, Phil Biggin was the President of UIW.  He was an activist, and a Prime Architect of the final success to lobby for changes in the Worker’s Compensation Act, and the Health and Safety laws affecting many injured workers in Ontario. Around 1990, he was the Executive Director when the late Joe Cuccia was the president of UIW.

Philip Biggin worked tirelessly on behalf of injured workers and their families until his passing in 2008. The inaugural honour was awarded posthumously to Philip Biggin and presented to members of his family at a presentation that was held at WSIB’s head office in Toronto in April 2012.

The Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB), WSIB’S predecessor, was established in 1914 through the passage of the Worker’s Compensation Act. In 1998, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act was passed in Queen’s Park. This resulted in the formation of the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) which took over the functions of the previous board. The WSIB, formerly WCB, is a branch of the Ontario Ministry of Labour. It is a workers’ compensation insurer for Ontario province, Canada. (Toronto ,October 21, 2013 )

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I. Introduction
The Union of Injured Workers (UIW) is a non-profit organization which was established in Toronto in 1974, comprised of four staff members, and law students of University of Toronto. The UIW was incorporated on December 11th, 1975 and registered under the Information Act as The Union of Injured Workers.   Now the UIW has developed into a mature organization with more than three thousand members and more than 40 volunteers such as lawyers, community legal workers, social workers, students of law, students of community work and social work.

II. Goals of the UIW

The UIW has organized all injured workers in the province of Ontario regardless of race, creed, colour, nationality, sex or political beliefs.  Why did Injured Workers have to get organized?  Injured workers had little power to bring about the changes they wanted, so they had to use collective action to achieve their goals.  The UIW on behalf of thousands of Injured Workers in Ontario had put pressure on the Government in order to lobby the Workers’ Compensation Law reform.

In the beginning, 1974, the UIW had two functions:

a) The main function of the UIW was to lobby for changes in the Workers’ Compensation Act and the Health and Safety Laws affecting many injured workers in Ontario. The UIW had established a four—point program for doing so:

1.        Job security of injured (mandatory rehiring of injured workers) or full compensation (compensation equal to 100% of injured workers potential earnings.)
2.       Cost of living increase (automatic indexation) of pensions, supplements, equalization of survivors’ benefits compounded every three months (implemented by the Government in December 1985.)
3.       Abolition of Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) Doctors
4.       Improvements to the Health and Safety laws.

b) Another important function of the UIW is to help workers with their individual cases through the aid of UIW caseworkers. To help injured workers the UIW caseworkers would provide information, counselling and/or legal representation in the following existing legislation areas:

1. Workers’ compensation
2. Unemployment Insurance
3. Welfare
4. Employment rights
5. Canada pension plan
6. Family counselling
8. Old age supplement
9. Old age security

III. Structure of the U.I.W

According to the Article 5 and the Article 6 of the current Constitution of the UIW, one can describe the structure as follows:

A.— The structure at the Province level:

The General Membership Meeting will elect the Ontario Board of Directors on a yearly basis.

The Ontario Board of Directors will be responsible for setting policy and strategy for Provincial organization between conventions. The Ontario Board of Directors will also be responsible for the recognition of the new local of the UIW.

The Ontario Board of Directors is composed of the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and the three Trustees.

The duty of the President is to act as a public spokesperson in consultations with the Board of Directors, to sign all official documents, and to preside at Convention and Provincial meetings.

The duty of the Vice-President is to assist the President, and to act as chairperson of meetings in the absence of the President.

The duty of the Secretary is to act as the officer of the Ontario organization, to act as Secretary during meetings and to coordinate communications within the Ontario Board of Directors.

The duty of the Treasurer is to act as Chief financial officer of the Ontario organization in order to keep proper order of the financial books and files.

The duties of three Trustees are to assist the Secretary and the Treasurer.

Every 20 injured workers who speak the same language may form a distinct language committee.

B.— The structure at the local level:

The local of the UIW can be established in any locality with at least twenty members.  The structure at the local level is almost the same as the structure at the Provincial level.
I hope that this structure of the UIW will be changed in the near future in order to make this non-profit organization work more co-operative and more effective.

IV. Effectiveness of the UIW

During the past twelve years, since 1974, the UIW has achieved certain changes in the Workers’ Compensation Act such as:

- the establishment of the psychological pension
- an injured worker has direct access to his/her own file
- the establishment of the clothing allowance for damage caused by wearing a back brace, a leg brace, amputee, or wheelchair

In December 1985, Amendment Bill 81 was passed by Ontario Legislature giving automatic cost-of-living increases for pensions and supplements in each year, retroactively to the year 1941.

The cost-of-living increase for pensions and supplements had been the second point of the four-point program of the UIW since 1974.

As well as lobbying for the Workers’ Compensation Law reform, the UIW has been active in injured workers’ advocacy. The UIW caseworkers have legally represented many injured workers on behalf of the UIW before the Workers’ Compensation Board, the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal, the Unemployment Insurance Commission, the Welfare office and other governmental agencies.  The UIW caseworkers have won the confidence of Injured Workers and have won many cases.

V. Conclusion

In the past years, the UIW has won significant changes in the Workers’ Compensation Act and the UIW caseworkers have won many cases.  For the future, the UIW should continue to fight for social justice, and to help injured workers with their individual cases. An important challenge in the years ahead is to live together in organizational unity which can be only be achieved by structural changes within the UIW in order to make the UIW stronger and more powerful.

The fight is not over yet. Since Government still has not accepted the demand for job security or full compensation and has not yet decided what role, if any, the WCB doctors will play.  There is still a long way to go before injured workers in Ontario achieve full justice.
“The Union of Injured Workers is one of the most successful social change organizations in Canada.”  - Don Feldman, Community Service Division, George Brown College.

“I’ve worked with the Union of Injured Workers since 1974, first as a law student and now as a Member of Parliament.  The Union provides a unique service to injured workers, combining professional concern for the individual case with commitment to the kinds of social change which will prevent accidents from happening and guarantee decent compensation.”  -  Bob Rae, Leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), Ontario Legislature (Feb 7, 1982 – June 22, 1996).