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Injured workers program gets axed

There’s good news and bad news associated with Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s decision to cut a controversial $150-million injured worker retraining program, says the secretary-treasurer of the Thunder Bay and District Injured Worke
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Steve Mantis, secretary-treasurer of the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group. (Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com)
There’s good news and bad news associated with Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s decision to cut a controversial $150-million injured worker retraining program, says the secretary-treasurer of the Thunder Bay and District Injured Workers Support Group.

Steve Mantis, who lost his left arm in an industrial accident 32 years ago, said the Labour Market Re-Entry program as it existed was ineffective and costly, using private, for-profit schools to retrain workers injured on the job, but rarely providing the credentials needed to help them find employment.

On the other hand, Mantis is worried the province won’t replace the program with anything more effective, meaning injured workers will continue to rely on government handouts to survive.

A replacement program, under the guidance of the WSIB, is expected to be announced this fall.

"We’re hopeful that it will be an improvement," Mantis said. "These are some of the issues we’ve been raising, that if they’re going to send people for retraining, they should do it in a public, certified institution so that people come out of it with a certificate that’s actually worth something."

Mantis said for any new program to be successful, public servants must provide the co-ordination, not external service providers who might have conflicts of interest and not be as communicative as required.

"We think having it inside the (WSIB) is a good thing," Mantis said. "But overall, we’re afraid that we’re just putting a bright ribbon on a package that really isn’t going to work at all anyway."

The reality, he went on to say, is that anyone with a disability is not valued in today’s workforce, so no amount of retraining is going to solve the problem at that end.

"It’s very difficult for a person with a disability to find a job and to be able to maintain that employment. We see that nationally the average is 60 per cent unemployment, if you have a disability," Mantis said.

He’s convinced the money can be spent more efficiently, and judging by what one newspaper found, he could very well be right.

A Toronto Star investigation showed that one injured worker was sent to a school that charged $33,000 tuition to train him to do basic data entry and stocking shelves, a position that also equally concerned for the 7,500 or so injured workers who can’t get jobs, either because their injuries are so severe or employers simply won’t hire them for one reason or another.

Mantis said the province should be compensating those people on a permanent basis.

"Right now the system is designed that they’ll send your for retraining. But because you’re retrained, you’re now able to have a job, whether you’re able to or not, and your benefits are cut."

Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan does like the changes, saying it will save WSIB a lot of money.