Nova Scotia

Federal government says no extended benefits for Cape Breton miners

The federal government has said no to retired and injured Cape Breton coal miners seeking extended workers' compensation benefits after age 65.

Retired and injured Devco coal miners say workers' compensation benefits should continue after age 65

Retired Devco coal miner Roy Moore says he had to sell his home and move to a small house after he lost about $2,400 a month in workers' compensation benefits at age 65. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The federal government has said no to retired and injured Cape Breton coal miners who were asking to have workers' compensation benefits extended past age 65.

The miners — federal employees with the former Cape Breton Development Corporation, known as Devco — had that protection until it was taken away in 1990, and they say they should get that back.

Roy Moore worked for Devco in several underground coal mines until he injured his knee.

Now 74, Moore said he was receiving $2,400 a month from workers' compensation, but that stopped when he turned 65.

With his mobility severely affected, Moore sold his home and downsized to a small rental unit in Glace Bay.

Roy Moore shows off the knee that was injured while he worked in the federally owned Cape Breton coal mines. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

He gets by on Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security payments, and said most days, he's stuck in his kitchen, where he keeps everything he needs handy.

Moore said he misses the income from workers' compensation, but he'd rather have his life back.

"It feels like they threw you in the corner and you're done, you're finished, you know?" he said.

"Losing the money wasn't everything. I mean, look, I've lost my complete lifestyle."

About 120 miners affected

Moore is one of about 120 former miners who say they need injury compensation beyond age 65 because they used to have it under federal rules and because they were prevented from building up reasonable retirement incomes.

They also say a federal bureaucrat suggested the money could be available, if the province amended its Workers' Compensation Act.

Nova Scotia's Labour Minister, Labi Kousoulis, said recently the province cannot extend benefits to one group without extending them to all.

But he said the province could do it for the miners, if the federal government guarantees the money first.

In an email this week, the federal government said it has no plans to do so.

The money is not there, say feds

Helena Sergakis, senior communications adviser for Public Services and Procurement Canada, said any suggestion that the money is available is incorrect.

"That is not the case," she wrote. "Public Services and Procurement Canada is not able to change eligibility for benefits, and no funding is earmarked for this purpose."

Sergakis said eligibility for benefits is determined by collective agreements established when Devco shut down, arbitrator decisions since then, and by provincial workers' compensation legislation.

Tammy Martin, NDP MLA for Cape Breton Centre, says the provincial and federal Liberals have turned the issue into a merry-go-round. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Tammy Martin, NDP MLA for Cape Breton Centre, introduced a private member's bill in the legislature this spring to amend provincial legislation and extend the benefits for miners.

She said the provincial and federal Liberals have turned the issue into a merry-go-round, and vowed to continue to push for the miners.

"The provincial government should talk to their federal counterparts and make this happen," Martin said.

Bobby Gillis has spent the last four years representing about 120 retired and injured Devco coal miners seeking extended benefits.

He wasn't available for an interview, but said in a text the fight isn't over.

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About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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