|Occupational Health and Safety
Rehabilitating Disabled Workers
What would happen to you if tomorrow you were involved in a serious accident at work in which your leg was severely crushed?
Suppose it had to be amputated to save your life. Could you return to your former job six months from now? Or could you return to
your workplace and expect to be guaranteed another job which you would be able to do with your new disability?
Do we as union members have a responsibility to help you become a productive member of society again? What responsibilities do
employers have? And what about government agencies?
There are many questions to be asked concerning the rehabilitation of permanently disabled workers with few answers formulated
Income continuity is of course the most important immediate problem confronting the disabled worker. If benefits are readily
forthcoming from the Workers' Compensation Board then the anxiety resulting from loss of income, which can hamper recovery, will
be reduced. Full medical, chiropractic, and physiotherapy treatments must be available to disabled workers so they can recover as
quickly as possible.
Once the worker is ready to return to the workforce, they see a WCB Rehabilitation Consultant. The consultant helps the worker to
gain confidence that they can overcome their disability. Our experience has been that all too frequently Rehab Consultants complain
that the disabled workers are not making enough effort to help themselves. The response to that is, if disabled workers were able
to help themselves completely, what would they need Rehab Consultants for? Disabled workers are often demoralized with their
new limitations in job opportunities and leisure activities. They need all the support and encouragement they can get.
Obviously the best solution is for disabled workers to return to the same job with the same rate of pay. Unfortunately, they are not
always capable of doing the work required. Many workplaces have a large proportion of very heavy jobs. A worker with a back
injury that results in a permanent disability would be unable to return to a former job if it required heavy lifting.
The most important perspective in rehabilitation is that it should meet the needs of the disabled worker concerned.
We think that every effort should be made to get a disabled worker back to the same bargaining unit he or she was in at the time
of their injury if that is what the disabled worker wants to do. This would enable the worker to maintain his or her seniority rights
and benefits. It seems only reasonable that the employer in whose plant the worker was injured has a continuing responsibility to
help the worker return to the workforce.
Contract clauses need to be negotiated such as the following: "When a qualified medical doctor recommends that an employee
should have a change of job for health reasons, every effort will be made to place him/her in a suitable job in consultation with the
Union Grievance Committee, who, if necessary, will have full authority to waive otherwise applicable seniority provisions."
Easier jobs in many workplaces are often the ones which are preferred and therefore the senior people get them through the job
posting procedure. The only way a disabled worker with less seniority could get access to these jobs is if the union and the
company agree to waive the seniority provisions. The problem comes in when there are too many disabled workers for the amount
of suitable work available. There is also a problem when senior workers, who expect and need to get easier jobs as they grow
older, find that disabled workers need the jobs just as badly.
There are a variety of other solutions to this dilemma. One is the quota system.
Many European countries impose quotas on industry requiring them to employ a certain number of disabled workers as a
percentage of the total workforce. This is also the direction in which Canadians should be looking. By sharing the responsibility for
employing disabled workers throughout Canadian industry, we would ensure that some, more enlightened employers who
presently voluntarily employ disabled workers would not be put at a financial disadvantage with their competitors. Our union has
been on record since our 1987 Convention supporting mandatory hiring quotas for employing the disabled.
Source: CAW Health, Safety & Environment Department