Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health

, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 707–714 | Cite as

Ethics and the Compensation of Immigrant Workers for Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses

  • Sylvie Gravel
  • Bilkis Vissandjée
  • Katherine Lippel
  • Jean-Marc Brodeur
  • Louis Patry
  • François Champagne
Review Article


This paper examines the compensation process for work-related injuries and illnesses by assessing the trajectories of a sample of immigrant and non-immigrant workers (n = 104) in Montreal. Workers were interviewed to analyze the complexity associated with the compensation process. Experts specialized in compensation issues assessed the difficulty of the interviewees’ compensation process. Immigrant workers faced greater difficulties with medical, legal, and administrative issues than non-immigrants did. While immigrant workers’ claim forms tended to be written more often by employers or friends (58% vs. 8%), the claims were still more often contested by employers (64% vs. 24%). Immigrant workers were less likely to obtain a precise diagnosis (64% vs. 42%) and upon returning to work were more likely to face sub-optimal conditions. Such results throw into relief issues of ethics and equity in host societies that are building their economy with migrant workers.


Immigrant workers Occupational injuries Compensation Social inequalities Impoverishment 


  1. 1.
    Sen A. Inequality reexamined. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1992.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Sen A. Social exclusion: concept, application and scrutiny. In: Sen A, editor. Social development papers, no 1, Office of Environment and Social Development Asian Development Bank; 2000. p. 7–23.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Sen A. On Ethics and economics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers; 1991.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Sen A. Development as freedom. New York: Alfred Knopf; 1999.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bardone L, Guio AC/Eurostat. In-work poverty; new commonly agreed indicators at the EU level. Statistics in focus; population and living conditions (ESTAT, 2005).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Mackenback JP, Bakker MJ, Sihto M, Diderichsen F. Strategies to reduce socioeconomic inequalities in health. In: Mackenback JP, Bakker MJ, editors. Reducing inequalities in health: a European perspective. London, New-York: Routledge; 2002. p. 24–50.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Peña-Casas R, Latta M. Working poor in the European Union. Dublin: European Foundation for the Living Working Conditions; 2004.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    International Labor Organization (ILO): ILO migration survey, 2003: country summaries. ILO; 2004.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Global Development Finance: striving for stability in development finance. GDF Washington; 2003.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Quinlan M. Workers’ compensation and the challenges posed by changing patterns of work: evidence from Australia. Policy Practice Health Safety. 2004;2(1):25–52.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Frumkin H, Pransky G. Minority workers and communities. Occup Med Special Populations. 1999;14(3):495–517.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Henshaw JL. Testimony: Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s efforts to protect immigrant workers. United States Senate Subcommittee on Employment Safety and Training, Washington DC, OSHA; 2002.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    California Working Immigrant Safety and Health (WISH): improving health and safety conditions for California’s immigrant workers; 2002.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Morse T, Dillon C, Levenstein C, Warren A. The economic and social consequences of work-related musculoskeletal disorders: the Connecticut upper-extremity surveillance project. Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 1998;4(4):209–16.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Kirsh B, McKee P. The needs and experiences of injured workers: a participatory research study. Work. 2003;21(3):221–31.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Opfermann R. Epidemiology and statistics of occupational accidents and morbidity in migrant workers. Safety and Health of Migrant Workers International Symposium.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Socialstyrelsen: Invandrares hälsa och sovciala förhallanden, SoS-rapport 1995:5, Stockholm. In: Wren K, Boyle P, editors. Migration and Work-Related Health in Europe; A Literature Review 2001. SALTSA Report 2000:1, Stockholm, Sweden.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Windau J. Occupational fatalities among the immigrant population. Compensation and working condition, 1997;Spring:40–4.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Lopez D, Feliciano C. Who does what? California’s emerging plural labor force. In: Milkman R, editor. Organizing immigrants: the challenge for unions in contemporary California: ILP Press; 2000.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Robinson JC. Exposure to occupational hazards among Hispanics, Blacks and Non-Hispanic Whites in California. Am J Public Health. 1989;79(5):629–30.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Sorock GS, Smith E, Hall N. Hospitalized occupational finger amputations, New Jersey, 1985–1986. Am J Ind Med. 1993;23:437–47.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    OSHA/EASHW (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work). Literature Study on Migrant Workers. European Risk Observatory. 2007.
  23. 23.
    Maier M, Reinke D. Workplace injuries and workers’ compensation claim filing: Results from the 2002 Oregon Population Survey;
  24. 24.
    Krause N, et al. Working conditions and health of San Francisco hotel room cleaners. Report to the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union from School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. Cited in: Working immigrant safety and health. Improving health and safety conditions for California’s Immigrant Workers; 1999.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Lashuay N, et al. We spend our days working in pain: a report on workplace injuries in the garment industry. Asian Immigrant Women Advocates; 2002.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Guthrie R, Quinlan M. The occupational safety and health rights and workers’ compensation entitlements of illegal immigrants: an emerging challenge. Policy Practice Health Safety. 2005;03(2):69–89.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Rosenman KD, et al. Why most workers with occupational repetitive trauma do not file for workers’ compensation. J Occup Environ Med. 2000;42(1):25–43.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Pransky G, et al. Outcomes in work-related upper extremity and low back injuries: results of retrospective study. Am J Ind Med. 2000;37:400–9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Premji S, Messing K, Lippel K. Broken English, broken bones? Mechanisms linking language proficiency and occupational health in a Montreal garment factory. Int J Health Serv. 2008;38(1):1–19.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Azaroff LS, Levenstein CL, Wegman DH. Occupational injury and illness surveillance: conceptual filters explain underreporting. Am J Public Health. 2002;92(9):1421–9.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Dembe AE, Fox SE, Himmelstein JS. The RWJF workers’ compensation health initiative: findings and strategies. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Health affairs (Project Hope) 2002, 21(1):251–5.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Stunin L, Boden LI. The workers’ compensation system: worker friend or foe? Am J Ind Med. 2004;45:338–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Pascoe B, Senécal C: The contribution of immigration to building an innovative workforce. Statistics Canada, Economic Conference 2002, innovation in an evolving economy, May 6–7, 2002. Ottawa.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Rush M. Potential for temporary migration programs in the organization of international migrations. Revue internationale du Travail. 2006;145(1–2):7–41.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Sweetman A. Immigration and the new economy. Canadian Issues, Thèmes canadiens; Metropolis 2003;21–2.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Ruddick E. Immigrant economic performance, a new paradigm in a changing labour market. Canadian Issues, Thèmes canadiens; Metropolis 2003;16–7.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Stalker P. Workers without frontiers; the impact of globalization on international migration. Colorado and ILO, Geneva: Lynne Rienner Publishers; 2000.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Ornstein M. Ethno-racial groups in Montreal and Vancouver, 1971–2001: a demographic and socio-economic profile. Toronto: York University; 2007.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Kazemipur A, Halli S. Poverty experiences of immigrants: some reflections. Canadian Issues, Thèmes canadiens; Metropolis 2003;18–9.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Patry L, et al. Access to compensation for male and female immigrant workers who suffer occupational musculoskeletal injuries. Research Report. Direction of Public Health, Montreal. Fonds québécois de recherche sur la société et la culture (FQRSC) no. 94577 SR-4658;2005.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Gravel S et al. Criteria for assessing difficulties of access to compensation for workers who suffer occupational injuries. Pistes 2006;8(2) (online journal).
  42. 42.
    Lebart L, Morineau A, Piron M. Multidimensional exploratory statistics. 2nd ed. Paris: Dunod; 1997.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Clausen SE. Applied correspondence analysis, an introduction. SAGE University Paper, Series: quantitative applications in the social sciences; 1998.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Benzécri JP. Correspondence analysis handbook. In: Dekker P, editor. Factorial analysis. Paris: PUF; 1994.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Sen A. Why health equity? 3rd International Health Economics Association Conference. Health Econ. 2001;11(8):659–66.
  46. 46.
    Gravel S, et al. Lack of understanding by immigrant workers who suffer occupational injuries of their difficulties in accessing compensation. Migration et sante. 2007;131:11–42.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Sen A. Poverty and entitlements. In: Sen A, editor. Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1981. p. 1–8.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Quebec Workers’ Compensation Board: 2007 annual report. 2008.
  49. 49.
    Lippel K. Workers describe the effect of the workers’ compensation process on their health: a Quebec study. Int J Law Psychiatry. 2007;30:427–43.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Lippel K. Compensation for musculoskeletal disorders in Quebec: systematic discrimination against women workers? Int J Health Serv. 2003;33(2):253–81.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Yassi A, Sprout J, Tate R. Upper limb repetitive strain injuries in Manitoba. Am J Ind Med. 1996;30:461–72.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Sen A. The democracy of others; why liberty is not an invention of the West. Paris: Manuels Payot; 2005.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sylvie Gravel
    • 1
  • Bilkis Vissandjée
    • 2
  • Katherine Lippel
    • 3
    • 4
  • Jean-Marc Brodeur
    • 5
  • Louis Patry
    • 6
  • François Champagne
    • 7
  1. 1.Department of Management, Business SchoolQuebec University at Montreal, Interuniversity Research Center on integration and immigration MetropolisMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of NursingMontreal UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.University of OttawaOttawaCanada
  4. 4.Department of Law, Center for the Study of Interactions between Health and Environment (Cinbiose)Quebec University in MontrealMontrealCanada
  5. 5.Department of Social and Preventive MedicineInterdisciplinary Research Group on Health (GRIS), University of MontrealMontrealCanada
  6. 6.Department of Occupational HealthMcGill University, Occupational Health and Safety, Public Health Division of MontrealMontrealCanada
  7. 7.Department of Health AdministrationInterdisciplinary Research Group on Health (GRIS), University of MontrealMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations