WSIB fixes troubled injured worker re-training program
TheStar.com – News/imvestigations – Provincial safety board plans more cost-effective system to aid those injured on job
Published On Fri Jul 02 2010. David Bruser Staff Reporter
A wasteful $150 million worker retraining program has been scrapped and replaced by a streamlined system provincial officials say will protect vulnerable workers and save money.
A Toronto Star investigation in early 2009 showed the costly provincial Labour Market Re-Entry program, which had been outsourced to the private sector, failed to lead nearly half of its participants to jobs.
The Star found injured workers were being sent to for-profit schools charging high tuitions so they could prepare for menial jobs as cashiers and attendants.
One worker, Nelson Fachola, was sent to a school that charged $33,000 – considerably more than tuition for a four-year undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto – so that he would find work doing data entry and stocking shelves for $11 an hour. He did not.
The Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) aims to roll out the new program by the end of the year.
“This is good news. The WSIB was paying a lot of money for nothing,” said Gladys Canelas, another injured worker caught up in the broken system.
“We’re delighted with the work of the Star,” said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL). “It will save the workers compensation system a fortune and it will lead to happier workers because they won’t be feeling that the system screwed them over.”
Since 1998, the WSIB had outsourced the program to claims management firms such as Crawford Healthcare Management and Sibley & Associates. These firms were supposed to assess the worker’s abilities, decide on a suitable job and the training needed to get that job. A typical program lasted 20 months and the firms periodically met with the worker to monitor progress while billing the workplace insurance system $80 to $90 an hour for the monitoring service.
The new program, re-branded the Work Re-integration Program and set to begin by end of year, will put WSIB managers back in charge of injured workers’ rehabilitation, give workers more say in their re-training plans, make greater use of Ontario’s public education system for the re-training, and aim to give workers “marketable skills and valid credentials.”
“You’re not going to be getting $33,000 worth of training to make someone a customer service rep or a clerk in a grocery store,” said Ryan of the OFL. “Clearly you can see there’s going to be massive savings. The training will go back to the community colleges and universities.”
WSIB executive Judy Geary, who has spent the last 18 months studying problems and planning the program overhaul, said the focus is primarily on improving injured workers’ futures, though she expects “modest savings.”
As the provincial agency is funded by employer premiums, the cost of an injured worker’s retraining affects the bottom line of the employer where he or she was hurt. The program sees about 5,000 new injured workers each year.
“We’re also expecting that fewer injured workers will have to be searching for work in the open market because we’re going to be holding employers up to their responsibilities to accommodate (their) injured workers,” Geary said.
The Star investigation also featured the saga of Carlos Aviles, who maimed his hand fixing a machine for his boss. The WSIB’s privately run program decided Aviles would need months of costly but basic math and language training, even though he already had an Ontario high school diploma.
At a private learning centre where tuition cost as much per year as Canada’s top law school, Aviles was to prepare for life as a clerk earning near minimum wage. “It was a waste of time,” Aviles said. “So much money wasted. It’s all garbage. The training was inadequate. This is not real school. It’s for kids. (But) I have to go there.”
While the WSIB will rely more on public schools for re-training, registered private, for-profit schools and other businesses will get some work but under stricter quality and cost controls.
Several injured workers had told the Star they had no choice about what school they attended and very little input into study plans, and that they were instructed to do as they were told or lose their WSIB benefits.
The WSIB also plans to set up an “independent” complaint system so workers can freely raise concerns about their re-training.
Under the outgoing system, the claims management firms, in addition to charging the WSIB the hourly monitoring fee once or several times a month, often charged another $30 to $45 an hour just to travel to meet with the student.
The Star article prompted one provincial leader to call for an audit while another said the program should be scrapped immediately.
Steve Mahoney, the head of the WSIB – a massive, multi-billion dollar arm of the government that insures two-thirds of all workplaces in Ontario – told the Star at the time that he was considering moving management of the retraining program back in-house.
An audit was commissioned and the findings, released 10 months after the Star’s investigation, called for significant change.
“Retraining programs over the past decade have not produced desired results,” the WSIB recently told the OFL as part of a presentation on the changes. “Employment rates are low, costs are rising, and workers and employers have expressed ongoing dissatisfaction.”
The WSIB presentation to the OFL also said the new program aims to remove the “strong profit motivation that is influencing current performance” and shorten the length of the average re-training program.
“Increased use of the public adult education system will provide greater assurance of sound curriculum, qualified instructors and compliance with standards,” the WSIB told the OFL. “It will concurrently reduce the stigma experienced by injured workers and provide them with credible credentials.”
Crawford Healthcare Management executive Gary Gardner said he is disappointed to lose the WSIB’s business and disagreed with any characterization of his firm as being an expensive and ineffective manager of re-training. Gardner added that his firm is looking forward to possibly bidding on the components of the new program still open to the private sector.
Sibley & Associates and another re-training management company, NRCS Inc., did not return calls from the Star.
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