‘Super indexing’ of WSIB benefits, enhanced cancer coverage for firefighters part of proposed changes announced by Ontario

David Piccini

The Ontario government is set to propose new legislation that aims to enhance financial support for workers injured on the job by allowing for greater increases in Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) benefits, potentially offering additional annual compensation beyond the standard inflation rate.

The proposed law would enable a new “super indexing” feature for WSIB benefits, where, for example, an injured worker with an annual income of $70,000 could see an increase of approximately $900 on top of the existing cost-of-living adjustments, which in 2023 were 6.5 percent.

Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, David Piccini, emphasized the government’s commitment to those affected by workplace injuries, stating, “Our government has heard loud and clear that injured workers need more support, which is why we’re taking action.” Piccini further highlighted the inclusive aim of the legislative efforts, acknowledging the struggles of workers across various scenarios, from long-serving firefighters to young parents facing unforeseen medical diagnoses.

The new legislation also targets enhancements to cancer coverage for firefighters and fire investigators by reducing the required duration of service for presumed compensation for esophageal cancer from 25 years to 15. This adjustment acknowledges recent findings on the disease’s latency period and aims to provide quicker access to benefits and services for affected individuals.

President of the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association, Greg Horton, expressed gratitude for the government’s move to modernize the law, sharing a common concern for the welfare of firefighters like Captain Craig Bowman of Welland and their families.

Furthermore, the government has pledged to initiate consultations on implementing job-protected leave to coincide with the 26 weeks of federal Employment Insurance sickness benefits. This leave is intended to safeguard employees diagnosed with critical illnesses, such as cancer, providing job security as they undergo treatment.

Hillary Buchan-Terrell, Advocacy Manager for the Canadian Cancer Society, voiced the importance of such measures, saying, “Ontarians should be able to focus on their cancer treatment without worrying about what it means for their job or how their family will pay their bills.”

This announcement comes alongside other recent government commitments, including forthcoming legislation that would require employers to disclose salary ranges and the use of AI in hiring processes. It would also open discussions on limiting Non-Disclosure Agreements in instances of workplace sexual harassment. These initiatives form part of a broader package designed to build on the principles set forth in the Working for Workers Acts of the past three years, aiming to further secure worker protections and financial stability.

The proposed changes to the Workplace Safety Insurance Act, 1997, would also introduce additional amendments subject to approval, such as expanding the list of presumed occupational diseases and establishing a new Occupational Illness Leadership Table to convene leading experts on the subject.

Jeff Lang, President & CEO of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, encapsulated the intent behind these reforms: “If someone gets hurt or sick from their work, we want to help them safely recover so they can get back to what matters. These changes will mean better, easier and faster services and support for people who need the WSIB.” With approximately 5,000,000 workers and 325,000 employers under the WSIB’s purview, and 134,000 claims indexed to inflation annually, the implications of the proposed legislative changes are significant for Ontario’s workforce.

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