PHOTO: GE workers Paul Thompson and Ted Millar, next to a large wire spool
ODRA says that they are “heartened” that the NDP has “taken up our cause to reform the way the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) adjudicates occupational disease claims.” According to the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC), out of 3,000 people diagnosed with occupational cancers each year, only 170 receive compensation.
The proposed Bill covers ODRA’s four flagship demands, namely:
➟ To allow a claim for a work-related disease that exceeds the rate in the community
➟ To recognize the role of multiple chemical exposures in disease causation
➟ To allow the placement of International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Group 1 and 2 carcinogens into Schedule 3 (and where applicable, Schedule 4)
➟ To adopt a clarified and more appropriate standard to establish work-relatedness.
“What we’re looking for is something that would be concrete and significant to the systemic issues that we see,” says Sue James, Chair of ODRA. James also worked at General Electric (GE) in Peterborough for 40 years. “Every worker is one step away from an injury, but also one breath away from illness,” she says, which is why it is so important for ODRA that victims and their families benefit from a more efficient claims system.
“When ODRA got together, we started comparing our different clusters around the province,” says James. The organization looked at the barriers for people to achieve justice in occupational disease. “We put our heads together and we came up with what we called our four demands, which we thought would be good solutions to starting to open the dialogue.”
One of the major commonalities that the group found that most of these clusters are in “company towns” where ODRA was noticing a pattern of disease. “We found that one of the roadblocks was that in their compensation system, these [diseases] were not being recognized or acknowledged,” says James.
Better recognition and understanding of occupational diseases is essential, but there is still a lack of research into the topic. But workers can’t wait. “We can’t wait for science to catch up,” says James. “We need them to recognize the patterns in the community coming out of all these different industries.”
Despite a recent rollout of worker safety measures, James says that the current government is still not reactive enough when it comes to this issue. She says that though ODRA presented the bill to the Minister, the government ultimately decided to not go with it. This is why Gates, the Official Opposition critic for Workers’ Health and Safety, has taken it on.
“We are very grateful that he has taken it on, but we really do hope that the current minister, and any and all parties will support the bill,” says James.
“We are fighting so hard to have these people recognized and acknowledged, that’s all we’re asking for. It’s not about the compensation,” she says. It’s about closure. “The experiences that I have heard from different people is that they need that closure, just to know that they did everything in their power to bring this to light. And they’re still struggling.”