Thunder Bay

OPSEU seeks injunction on social assistance software problems

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union will ask the courts to intervene to stop the province from using flawed new social assistance software.

Union wants old software back while Ontario finds a fix for new welfare, disability payment system

OPSEU president Smokey Thomas wants a court injunction to stop Ontario from using its new social assistance management software. ( Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union will ask the courts to intervene to stop the province from using flawed new social assistance software to process Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support payments.

The union announced Wednesday that it is seeking an injunction to halt the Social Assistance Management Software that was installed Nov. 12.

The $240 million software is responsible for a series of overpayments to recipients, but also continues to cause delays in processing financial assistance.

"Despite our repeated warnings, the Ministry of Community and Social Services went ahead and implemented this system, which in turn disadvantaged the most vulnerable people in this province," union president Warren (Smokey) Thomas said in a news release.

Staff feels 'helpless"

Thomas said the union will also pursue a declaration that the government violated the rights of social assistance recipients under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by implementing a system it knew was flawed.

According to the union, it is still possible to return to the old system while the problems with the new software are fixed.

"Our members, working in both programs, are doing their absolute best to try and minimize the impacts, but in spite of their best efforts the number of program flaws grows by the day, and staff are beginning to feel helpless," Thomas said.

The union estimates thousands of clients have been affected by delayed payments or the system's inability to process new requests for things such as bus fare for medical appointments or a winter clothing allowance for clients starting new jobs.

Thomas said the injunction isn't just about helping union members, that it's "something we can try to do for all those people who don't have a voice and don't have enough money to live on even at the best of times."

Ministry stands by software

The Ministry of Community and Social Services issued a statement on Wednesday in response to the union, stating that December payments are on schedule, and listing steps the ministry has taken to address the problem. They include:

  • A payment hotline, which Ontario Works staff can call to receive support for any specific functional issues they may be encountering
  • An email address for access and login issues
  • Job aids and troubleshooting guides
  • Twice-daily communications updates 
  • Direct technical assistance help lines for Ontario Disability Support Program staff

But the ministry stands by the IBM/Curam software, saying it "will deliver social assistance programs more efficiently and allow caseworkers to spend more time helping their clients."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now