WOLFVILLE, NS - They don’t know if they can count on being paid or not and they’ve taken their displeasure to the office of the President of the Treasury Board of Canada.
Chanting and carrying flags and signs, approximately two-dozen members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) marched in Wolfville to the office of Kings-Hants MP and President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison on Nov. 20 to voice concerns.
Thousands of federal public service workers are experiencing financial troubles due to a multiplicity of problems related to the computerized Phoenix pay system. Colleen Coffey, PSAC Atlantic regional executive vice president, called the situation the “worst federal government debacle in recent history.”
She said that since the computerized system was implemented about 18 months ago, they still have members who aren’t getting a pay cheque. Some departments are providing emergency pay to affected employees but not all.
“The ramifications of Phoenix not working are just huge and most people know it’s about our members not getting paid but it’s so much bigger than that,” Coffey said.
She said they have members who have been owed overtime for the past 18 months. There are others who have been on leave returning to work but not getting back on the payroll system and others not getting paid at all.
Coffey said some public service members are not able to access medical and dental plan coverage. Some have serious medical concerns and can’t get the drugs they need. Others are wondering where the money for their next mortgage payment will come from.
“People are losing, this is causing mental health issues for people because they’re under an enormous amount of stress, wondering every second Monday if they’re in fact going to get a cheque on Wednesday,” Coffey said.
She said it would be “absolutely horrible” for affected families not to have a paycheque to count on at Christmas time, which is a possibility for many. Coffey said that any of their approximately 80,000 members could potentially be affected by the Phoenix problems. She said there are currently 520,000 requests for various pay actions.
Coffey said the Conservative government of the day came out with a plan to save Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars by consolidating all pay systems into one. The Phoenix system, which is used by many companies, was purchased.
She said the bill for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plan is now over $1 billion and growing. This will be coming out of the pockets of Canadian taxpayers.
She said the system might work well for smaller companies with employees working seven-and-a-half or eight hours a day Monday to Friday. However, there are many more variables to take into consideration for PSAC members and “the system just doesn’t understand that.”
Coffey said she feels bad for all affected employees, including the hundreds at the pay centre in the Miramichi trying to fix the problems with “a broken system.”
“They are knowledgeable, intelligent people and they know human resources and they know compensation but they have no control when something goes in, what is spit out at the other end,” Coffey said.
She said the government is working with IBM to correct the problems with Phoenix. Coffey points out that there are federal employees across the country working to address the situation who should be doing other things.
She said PSAC members have been publicly demonstrating displeasure at every opportunity because “as soon as we become silent, people will think it’s fixed.”
Coffey said many of the demonstrators on hand on Nov. 20 are Brison’s constituents. They want the message to resonate with the Kings-Hants MP and President of the Treasury Board that he can’t stop working on their behalf until the problems are resolved.
“The message is, for us, that we want out members to get paid, paid correctly and paid on payday,” Coffey said.
Statement from the MP
Kings-Hants MP and President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison said they inherited a fundamentally flawed pay system from the previous government and are leaving no stone unturned in working to find a permanent situation.
He said the Harper Conservatives botched the program from the start. They built the software and rushed the implementation; all while firing hundreds of workers who were needed to ensure people were paid on time.
“The pay problems experienced by government employees are completely unacceptable,” Brison said in a written statement. “No one should have to worry about being paid for their work.”
He said the current Liberal government has re-hired hundreds of pay advisors to replace the ones “rashly discarded by the Conservatives” and has been working collaboratively with public sector union partners.
“Our government also called in the Auditor General to examine the pay system problems, as we make a transparent, whole-of-government push to get hard-working Government of Canada employees paid correctly and on time,” Brison said.