Department of National Defence employees chant and wave flags in a recent protest protest of the federal government’s deal with a French company for ship maintenance and the Phoenix payment system in front of the Esquimalt base. (Lauren Boothby/Victoria News)

Frustrated federal employees to rally at MP Mark Strahl’s office

Eighteen months after Phoenix pay system introduced and problems persist

Federal government workers who are exasperated over the continuing problems with their paycheques plan to rally in front of Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl’s constituency office Wednesday at noon.

The now-notorious Phoenix payroll system has been in place since February 2016 and has faced problem after problem, with tens of thousands of employees getting incorrect paycheques and hundreds, no pay at all.

Of the 300,000 employees of the federal government, six months in to the program and 80,000 employees had problems with their pay, usually being shortchanged.

Mike Britton is a shift worker in the kitchen at Kent Institution who says another year has gone by and federal employees are still getting stiffed.

“This isn’t getting better, it’s getting worse,” Britton said.

RELATED STORY: Chilliwack prison guard caught up in federal payroll fiasco

Britton is president of the local branch of the Union Solicitor General Employees (USGE), which is a component union of the broader Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The Phoenix computerized pay system, commissioned by the previous Conservative government, was implemented in February 2016 by the Liberal government. It involved replacing some 2,700 payroll specialists across the country with the automated system, run by 500 people in Miramichi, N.B.

It was beset with problems from the start. Six months into implementation and 80,000 federal employees, from MPs to office workers, complained of not being paid what they’re owed — most commonly not receiving enough in benefits, overtime or pay differentials for temporary promotions.

In the worst cases, some people weren’t paid at all.

Issues employees are still experiencing, according to Britton, include: underpayment, pay retraction, incorrect pay for work performed, incorrect pay for statutory holidays and incorrect pay for overtime.

“All those issue have occurred since the Phoenix system came into effect in February 2016 and we, as workers and employees, have not been issued or advised of one reason why, or when those problems would be rectified,” he said.

“Not only can we not figure out why, you can’t communicate with the Phoenix pay centre.”

He said a call centre was created where complaints are received but those in the call centre don’t have answers nor can they rectify problems.

Britton said many of his colleagues have been without a seven per cent portion of their pay since March. His case involves a supposed overpayment although he can find no evidence of that being true, after which they started clawing back $300 on pay cheques.

And while action has been taken in the most serious cases, a priority system is in place to deal with Phoenix complaints, which means those short-changed by seven per cent are lower on the priority scale so nothing is ever done.

Britton also said there is a trickle-down effect to casual employees, some of whom haven’t been paid at all. With all the uncertainty, when they are looking for a new worker to fill a casual employment role it creates an undesirable work environment.

“You say to the worker ‘You have to pay to get your fingerprints, for a criminal record check, oh, and by the way, other casual employees haven’t been paid for seven or eight months,’” Britton says.

“It creates tons of different levels of turmoil in the workplace, not just for the employees not getting paid.”

Britton said he’s not sure how many people will attend the rally at Strahl’s office Wednesday, but about 10 or so shift workers from the kitchen at Kent should be there. Other PSAC employees might show up, and he’s heard other possible rallies are scheduled in other communities.

As for why the rally is at Strahl’s office, a Conservative on the opposition benches now, he’s the local representative in Ottawa and it was his party that originally created Phoenix, according to Britton.

“The Conservatives started this ball rolling and they’re as much to blame, or more, than anyone,” Britton said, adding that Strahl’s office has been helpful in attempting to resolve individual issues from time to time.

The problem is that those individual remedies are often temporary and certainly don’t address the bigger problem.

“He is our representative in Parliament and here is what we are saying: Our members are being drastically affected. You need to do more than say what you’ll do about an individual request.

“We started a petition to Scrap Phoenix,” Britton said. “At least stop the bleeding.”


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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