Stories of injured immigrants

Dealing with a workplace injury can be challenging for any worker.

For an immigrant worker who doesn’t speak English well and who doesn’t understand the nuances of the mainstream culture, there may be extra difficulties. Associate Scientist Dr. Agnieszka Kosny made this observation during another study of injured workers, some of whom were immigrants.

This led Kosny to head up a new study to look at the experiences of injured immigrants, in more depth. This two-year study, which received funding from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board’s (WSIB) Research Advisory Council, is currently underway and also involves Scientists Dr. Ellen MacEachen and Dr . Peter Smith. The researchers will speak to injured immigrant workers who have been in Canada since 1990.

We will be looking at their experiences after an injury, including the circumstances around the injury, says Kosny. Researchers will probe workers’ knowledge of their right to file workers’ compensation claims and of their experiences with the compensation system in general.

To date, the researchers have interviewed service providers who deal with injured immigrant workers, in legal clinics and health-care settings, and from unions in industries with many immigrants.

Over the summer, they will be identifying and interviewing two groups of injured immigrants: those who have not filed a claim and those who have had contact with the WSIB. The research team is recruiting participants by advertising in Chinese and Punjabi and with the help of community-based organizations.

The study also has an advisory committee with representatives from injured worker groups, the WSIB, the Joint Centre of Excellence for Research on Immigration and Settlement (CERIS), as well as physicians and two injured immigrant workers.

From interviews with service providers, a number of issues have already emerged. For instance, says Kosny, although many immigrants come to Canada under the skilled worker category, they and their families may still experience language barriers.

When injured, some workers may not understand the need to document everything for a compensation claim nor have the language skills to do so. Translation services, while helpful, may add a layer of complexity to the compensation process. Service providers have also reported that many immigrants use temporary agencies to find work. This has implications on occupational health and safety that the researchers plan to explore.

Source: At Work, Issue 53, Summer 2008: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto