New research centre on disability and work aims to repair Canada’s fractured support system for disabled workers. By: Laurie Monsebraaten
Toronto Star, Feb 04 2014
Postal worker Michele McSweeney doesn’t know what she thinks was worse her treatment by Canada Post and workers’ compensation officials in 2005 when she was injured on the job in a hit-and-run truck accident, or her doctor’s missed diagnosis of her crushed wrist.
All she knows is that she is in constant pain, permanently unable to use her right arm and out of a job she loved.
In April, after she completes a workers’ compensation retraining course in office administration, she will be on her own, trying to get a job as an injured worker.
“With such a visible injury as mine, who will want to hire me?” says the 51-year-old Hamilton woman. “I’ll be forced to go on welfare.”
According to a recent report by the Metcalf Foundation, welfare has become the only support for an increasing number of disabled Canadians who no longer qualify for traditional disability benefits due to the changing nature of work and disability.
A new national research centre for disability and work, launching at McMaster University Tuesday, aims to look at why this is happening and what policies and programs are needed to reverse this troubling trend.
The Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council through a seven-year, $2.8-million grant, will bring together 50 academics from across the country and another 46 community partners to tackle the issue.
“Most people at some point in their lives face a period when they can’t work due to an illness or injury whether physicall or mental, acute or chronic, temporary or recurring, incurred through work or another source,” said McMaster associate professor Ellen MacEachen, co-director of the centre with Emile Tompa.
“We need to develop evidence-based policy options that will help injured, ill and disabled workers stay in the job market,” said MacEachen, who also works at the Toronto-based Institute for Work and Health where the new research centre will be headquartered.
“All Canadians deserve the opportunity to work, regardless of their ability, in order to make a living and contribute to Canada’s economy,” she added.
The country’s fragmented disability support system currently makes that next to impossible.
Since McSweeney had 14 years of employment with Canada Post, she qualifies for Canada Pension Plan Disability benefits. But every penny she receives from CPP-D will be clawed back from her Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments, guaranteeing her a life of poverty.
A single person on ODSP, the province’s welfare program for the disabled, is eligible to receive a maximum of just $1,086 per month.
If McSweeney is able to pick up some paid employment, she will be allowed to keep the first $200 she earns before facing welfare claw-backs. But she will lose all her federal disability pension benefits, because that program supports only those who are unable to do any work.
“When it comes to workplace disability support, there is none,” she says bitterly. “We are treated horribly.”
About 2.3 million working-age Canadians about one in 10 were “sometimes” or “often” limited in their daily activity in 2012 due to a long-lasting health problem, according to Statistics Canada.