WSIB breached rights of injured Jamaican migrant worker: tribunal

Ontario’s workers’ compensation board violated the rights of a Jamaican migrant worker by slashing his benefits following a back injury, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal ruled during the last week of September.

In what the IAVGO Community Legal Clinic in Toronto called a “historic decision” in an Oct. 5 press release, the Tribunal ordered the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) to pay Michael Campbell compensation based on work available to him in both Jamaica and Ontario. The WSIB’s practice of reducing workers’ comp for temporary foreign workers is unfair and contrary to the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Tribunal determined.

“This decision supports protecting the rights of injured migrant workers, and the Tribunal should be commended,” Airissa Gemma, a community legal worker with IAVGO who represented Campbell, said in a media statement. “The WSIB needs to take immediate steps to change this cruel and unlawful policy.”

Campbell worked on a peach farm in Ontario for nearly a decade, trying to better the lives of his four children, IAVGO stated in the release. He did not have permanent immigration status in Canada, which tied him to one employer and left him with no labour mobility.

After he injured his back in a workplace accident in 2008, the WSIB cut Campbell’s benefits under the assumption that he could still live and work at a minimum-wage job in Ontario. As a result, he lost his livelihood and his ability to work in Ontario and had to return to Jamaica, where his family slipped into poverty.

“What the WSIB does is unfair,” Campbell said in a press statement. “WSIB needs to change its policy now, so no one else has to go through what I went through.”

The Tribunal decision on Campbell’s behalf was the result of a nine-year effort to get justice in his case, the release claimed.

One organization that supported Campbell’s case was Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW), a Toronto-based grassroots entity that promotes the rights of temporary foreign workers in Canada.

“Countless injured migrant farm workers and their families have become impoverished and destitute from this WSIB policy,” J4MW organizer Chris Ramsaroop said in a statement. “This decision proves what many have been advocating for years and to no avail: their policy is unfair and… has to stop.”

Local media reports have stated that the WSIB plans to review the Tribunal’s ruling and consider revising its policies.

Funded by Legal Aid Ontario, IAVGO is a legal clinic with a focus on the rights of injured workers.

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