As the skyrocketing cost of living is top of mind for many Ontarians heading into June’s provincial election, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s (WSIB) arbitrary and discriminatory age 65 cut-off for wage loss benefits must be changed to support a growing number of injured workers: seniors.
June is Seniors Month in Ontario, and whichever party takes the helm after the June 2 election must seize the opportunity to correct an outdated provision at the heart of the workers’ compensation system that harms seniors.
The law currently only allows workers to collect wage loss benefits until age 65, or for a maximum of two years if they were injured on the job when they were 63 years or older. In contrast, workers over the age of 65 can participate in other employment related benefit schemes such as Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan.
Even though the province abolished mandatory retirement in 2006, workers’ compensation legislation was exempted. As a result, the WSIB continues to rely on the notion that people can or will retire at 65. But that simply isn’t the case.
More Canadians are staying in the workforce past the age of 65, in part because they can’t afford to retire. The WSIB’s own data bears out this trend. From 2002 to 2020, the number of workers’ compensation claims for workers age 65 or older has increased by more than 500 per cent.
The number of low-income seniors has also increased in recent years, coupled with a growing number of Canadians who don’t have access to a workplace pension plan. This trend will intensify with the inflation rate at a 30-year high. It’s clear that we need solutions when it comes to income security. Wage loss benefits are a crucial source of income for workers who can’t get back to work following an injury. Maintaining an age 65 cut-off for these benefits puts a larger number of seniors at risk of financial instability.
Ontario should look West to support injured workers who want or need to work past the age of 65. For years, British Columbia and Alberta’s workers’ compensation systems have been able to decide when wage loss benefits will end based on an injured workers’ individual retirement plans. If a worker can show that they intended to keep working past the age of 65, they can continue to receive wage loss benefits.
This kind of individualized and flexible approach should be a feature of Ontario’s legislation. It’s time that our workers’ compensation system adapts to reflect new realities. Adopting this approach won’t break the bank. The WSIB is slated to refund up to $1.5 billion to employers, in addition to further premium reductions in 2022.
The needs of working and injured seniors shouldn’t be overlooked by political parties during Ontario’s election campaign, as income security will undoubtedly be a pressing policy issue for the next government.
Tebasum Durrani and Chris Grawey are caseworkers at Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic (IWC) in Toronto.