Initiative to investigate policy options for disabled workers
By: Jason Contant
A new research centre has been launched to develop evidence-based policy options that will allow Canada’s current disability policy system to provide better income support and labour market engagement for injured, ill or disabled workers.
The Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy (CRWDP), a seven-year initiative funded by the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, was launched at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. on Feb. 4, the CRWDP said in a release. Co-led by Drs. Emile Tompa and Ellen MacEachen, senior scientists at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto, the centre includes regional hubs in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The current disability policy system in Canada was built over several decades, with different parts designed to meet different standards,” the release said. “This has resulted in a fragmented system of largely uncoordinated parts. Conflicting and out-of-date requirements across disability support programs mean people are shuffled between programs and can fall through the cracks.”
Research centre will probe support options
The centre will investigate how many workers with disabilities are not getting the support needed to enter, remain in or return to the job market and why. It will also look at what policy changes are needed to ensure that all Canadians can work, regardless of their ability, the release said.
“Taking into account all forms of disability — acute or chronic, temporary or episodic, physical or mental, coming early in life or late, work-related or otherwise — it’s not hard to see that work disability touches most people at some point in their lives,” said Dr. Tompa. “We are bringing together academic talent from across the country and working closely with partners to identify a roadmap for the future of work disability policy in Canada.”
The centre includes 46 partners from across the country, representing disability and injured worker community organizations, provincial and federal disability support program providers, labour organizations, employers and research institutions.
MacEachen said that the challenge the current disability support system faces is that more and more workers with health conditions or impairments can and want to work, but need some support to do so. However, some don’t qualify for appropriate work reintegration support from any one program, and without it, they are falling into the “grey zone of unemployment.”
“Having lost a husband due to a workplace injury in 1988 and having a son with a life-changing, work-based brain injury from 2000, and seeing supports and fair compensation eroded over the past 25 years, I strongly believe that it is imperative to have academic research in conjunction with injured worker and family groups, to provide momentum for science-based change to improve outcomes for injured workers in Canada,” said Patricia MacAhonic, an advisor with the Canadian Injured Workers Alliance, in the CRWDP release.
Worker Krystal Johnston, 29, of Vancouver has carpal tunnel syndrome and two surgeries, one on each wrist, failed to fix the loss of feeling in her hands and arms. Her doctor told her she is unlikely to return to ironworking, a job she loves, the release said. She was also denied her claims for workers’ compensation benefits, has used up her Employment Insurance sickness benefits and will run out of her union disability benefits within months.
“I’ve been off work for a year-and-a-half now, and Vancouver isn’t a cheap place to leave,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll get through this, but I’m completely alone.”