How did we arrive at protecting workers in Canada?
It all started in 1886 when Ontario passed its first Compensation Act. At that time, railway workers were experiencing very difficult working conditions and injuries were quite common. Legislation created changed the responsibilities of Employers. However, workers at the time had to go to court to sue the Employer or to prove negligence. This Act did not reduce workplace accidents, in fact, they increased year by year. Then juries began to understand that many accidents were not caused by workers, but were due to a lack of safety in the workplace. Employers had not adapted the work environment as a result of these accidents.
In 1910, the Chief Justice of Ontario, Sir William Meredith, established a Commission of Inquiry to understand how the workers’ compensation system worked in Ontario. He held 27 hearings across the province, with nearly 100 witnesses appearing to raise workers’ issues and report back with written evidence. It was in 1913, three years after the “Meredith Commission” that he was finally able to write his report. Thanks to his research, his bill was passed by the Ontario Legislature in 1914: Workers’ Compensation Act.
The Workmen’s Compensation Act meant that workers would receive prompt and regular payments from their Employers for the duration of a disability. In response to Meredith’s initiative, similar legislation was passed across Canada.
Following the 1978 Wyatt Report on Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) finances, the Government commissioned Professor Paul Weiner to review the Ontario workers’ compensation system. In 1986, the Government assigned him to study as well the Minna-Majesky Task Force in order to gain a better understanding of their vocational rehabilitation services. Mr. Weiner wrote three reports which dealt with benefits and administration, occupational diseases, and compensation for partial and permanent disability.
Thanks to his studies, these three reports were accepted in court, bringing to light several issues in the Canadian workers’ community. This was a victory for the community. Some time later, the Commission introduced experience rating, and the Liberal government, despite earlier promises, introduced the double award and judgment system with the adoption of Bill 162 in 1990. It was in the same year that the subsequent NDP Government began to reduce cost-of-living adjustments under the Friedland Formula (Bill 165), while increasing pension supplements for unemployed injured workers.
In short, this bit of history is very important to us today. At one time, if we got sick, we would have no income and no protection. Therefore, people like Sir William Meredith, Paul Weiner, and many other activists, advanced the rights of Canadian workers.