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The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada > News & Events > Communications Magazine > Vol. 36, No. 2, Spring 2010 > Know Your Rights
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Know Your Rights
Workers’ Compensation Who? What? Where? and Why?

Ernie McLean

Contributor: Ernie McLean Employment Relations Officer Winnipeg Regional Office

Before a workers’ compensation system was established in Canada, injured workers were forced to use the courts and legal system to access financial support from their employer. Most workers could not afford that system and those who could, faced an uphill battle. Employers were not held responsible for a worker’s accident if either the worker or a co-worker had contributed to the accident in any way. On the down side, if a worker or group of workers were successful in suing their employer, it sometimes resulted in bankruptcy of an employer.

In the late 1800’s, Britain passed legislation that replaced the old law with one based on no-fault principles. The responsibility for compensation of injured workers became the responsibility of the individual employers. The employers were not required to insure against the risk and now the workers had no remedy if the employer could not pay.

In 1910, the Province of Ontario appointed William Meredith to head a Royal Commission to review workers compensation legislation. Meredith proposed the “historic trade off.” Workers gave up the right to sue their employers for a guaranteed protection from loss of income regardless of fault. Meredith felt strongly that the amount of compensation should have a direct relationship with the earning power of the injured party. His revelation was a wage loss system. In 1915 the first Workers Compensation Act in Canada was proclaimed in Ontario.

The five Meredith Principles

1. No-fault compensation

Workplace injuries or industrial disease are compensated regardless of fault. The worker and employer relinquish the right to sue. There is no dispute over responsibility or liability for any injury or industrial disease. Fault becomes irrelevant, and providing compensation becomes the center of attention.

2. Collective liability

The total cost of the compensation system is shared by all employers. All employers contribute to a common fund. Financial liability becomes their collective responsibility. Some employers are “self insured” which only means that they pay what the Board orders.

3. Security of payment

A fund is established to guarantee that monies will be available for all authorized claims. Injured workers are assured of quick and appropriate compensation and future benefits.

4. Exclusive jurisdiction

All compensation claims are directed to the compensation board of each provincial board. The board is the only adjudicator and ultimate authority for all claims. The board has the power and authority to judge each case on its individual merits and is not bound by legal precedent.

5. Independent board

The governing board is both independent and non-political. The administration of the system is focused on the needs of its employer and worker clients, providing service with efficiency and impartiality.

Canada currently has twelve jurisdictions with separate Acts and separate governing bodies. They are independent bodies established by provincial governments/ territories to oversee and administer workers compensation legislation. In some cases, provincial boards also oversee and administer occupational health and safety legislation. The principles of William Meredith have never been altered and are still the foundation and underpinning on which Workers’ Compensation Boards operate today.

The Government Employees Compensation Act (GECA) determines eligibility for compensation benefits for employees falling within its jurisdiction. Under an agreement with the federal government, the GECA is administered in each province by your provincial Workers’ Compensation Board. Generally speaking, you must show that an “accident or industrial disease” happened at work. An accident is defined as “a wilful and an intentional act, not being the act of the employee, and a fortuitous event occasioned by a physical or natural cause”. An industrial disease is defined as “any disease in respect of which compensation is payable under the law of the province where the employee is usually employed respecting compensation for workmen and the dependants of deceased workmen.”

Most applications are rejected due to the issue of location. Employers or the Board itself may say the employee was not at work or the injury did not arise out of the course of employment. Should this happen, contact your PIPSC Employment Relations Officer or local provincial worker advisor for assistance, as each claim is looked at independently. This is the only way to maintain your rights that William Meredith secured for you just over 100 years ago.