Vow to help ailing Canadian factory workers after union-backed study

Ontario labour minister Kevin Flynn says he wants an “expedited” settlement process for ailing workers struggling without compensation.

Ontario will do the “right thing” for factory workers left fighting work-related cancer and other diseases but who have been routinely denied compensation, the province’s labour minister has said.

The commitment from Kevin Flynn came in the wake of a 173-page report by General Electric (GE) retirees and the union Unifor documenting working conditions in a GE plant in Peterborough from 1945 to 2000.

The report said workers were exposed to more than 3,000 toxic chemicals, including at least 40 known or suspected human carcinogens. “These GE workers have suffered horrific and often terminal diseases at a disproportionate rate, yet approximately half of the compensation claims filed have been rejected, abandoned or withdrawn due to what was deemed to be insufficient proof,” said Joel Carr, Unifor national representative.

Workers were exposed to large quantities of hazardous substances including asbestos, arsenic, vinyl chloride, beryllium, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, PCB, uranium and lead, without proper protection. There are currently 31 Unifor members with claims to the province’s compensation board (WSIB) for GE job-related illness, including several forms of cancer.

The report, authored by experienced occupational health researchers Bob and Dale DeMatteo, was commissioned by the Advisory Committee on Retrospective Exposures, consisting of retired GE workers and supported by Unifor.

Responding to the report, Ontario labour minister Kevin Flynn said he wants an “expedited” settlement process in place “as quickly as possible” for those struggling without workers’ compensation.

Flynn signalled the government is considering a way to process the claims similar to how compensation for work-related illness is handled for firefighters, for whom a list of cancers are presumed to be work-related. “We’ve talked about a presumptive approach to this,” the minister said.

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