HALIFAX (Canadian OH&S News)
The financial hardship faced by more than 100 women in Nova Scotia after their husbands were killed on the job is being recognized and reimbursed by the provincial government.
Changes introduced in the legislature to the province’s Workers’ Compensation Act on April 19 ensured that workplace widows in the province who were remarried before April 17, 1985 — the day the equality rights section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect — would receive almost 14 years of survivor’s benefits that were previously denied to them.
When the province changed the legislation allowing remarried women to receive survivor’s benefits in 1999, women whose husbands died before the Charter’s equality provisions came into effect would only receive the benefits beginning when the legislation was passed.
Women who were remarried after April 17, 1985 were eligible for benefits from the Charter provisions forward.
“Every woman whose husband was killed on the job deserves to be treated fairly and compensated properly,” said Labour and Advanced Education Minister Frank Corbett in a news release from the province. “In the past, that didn’t happen. That’s not acceptable and we’re doing something about it because it’s the right thing to do.”
The one-time, lump-sum payment will cost around $10 million, said Corbett, also the minister responsible for the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia. He noted that most of the money would come out of the compensation board’s accident fund. So far, Newfoundland and Labrador, British Columbia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island have all agreed to compensate women in similar situations.
The government credited Betty Bauman, who was remarried four years after her husband was killed in a coal mining accident in 1960, as the driving force behind the bill.
Bauman said she has been lobbying the government since the legislation passed in 1999.
“Four days before the bill went through, we were all going to get the same thing. We were all going to get our pensions and our back money, and that included the widows that got married before ’85 when the Charter came in. We got our pensions, but they didn’t reimburse us our money, but they did to the widows after ’85,” she said. “I had three children, I was 26 years old and he was 28, and when I remarried four years later, I figured it was going to be the same but it never is. I worked all the years and my children, when they wrote letters to the compensation board, they would say they not only lost their father but they lost their mother because she had to go to work.”
She and the group of women she had gathered to lobby the government took the legislation to court, where they won the case against the province but lost on appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear their argument.
“While courts may not agree legally that we had ownership of this, we felt morally we did,” Corbett said, noting that the hardship of losing a husband resonated across many industries in the province. “I come from Cape Breton, my father was a coal miner for 47 years, so I knew the rigours of that industry. But I also knew widows that had lived in my neighbourhood and the hardship they faced.”
In 2001, the province offered a buyout package of $80,000, minus the benefits already paid, to women who were at the time receiving $750 a month in compensation. Bauman said it was an offer that was quickly rejected by the “pre-Charter widows,” as they were known.
“When the women got their pensions, they were so grateful that they were going to get this money every month to help them. How far would $80,000 go? Not very far. We’ve been getting our pensions since ’99. They wouldn’t give up their pensions, I asked them all and they all said no. I knew because they wouldn’t give up that security, and it’s tax-free.”
There were two readings left for the bill, and Bauman and Corbett were both confident it would be passed.
Now that the fight is over, Bauman said she does not plan on doing any more advocacy work.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do next. Probably someone will come along and say ‘how about fighting for us?’ but I’m not tackling any more,” she laughed. “There are 109 widows that are going to be very happy.”