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Feds continue to struggle with Phoenix pay system
Employees still waiting for money as government misses Oct. 31 deadline to fix problems

Jessica Davey-Quantick
Northern News Services
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Samuel Bourget has been waiting for a $700 paycheque since June.

NNSL photo/graphic

Samuel Bourget, back left, braved the cold with Shaun Smith to draw attention to continuing issues with the Phoenix pay system. Both have been owed money for months. - Jessica Davey-Quantick/ NNSL photo

He's an Operational Records Management System (ORMS) officer with the RCMP, and one of 22,000 federal employees who are missing money because of problems with the Phoenix pay system.

The federal Department of Public Services and Procurement failed to reach its Oct. 31 deadline to clear the backlog of 82,000 employees who were waiting for money.

In July, deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada Marie Lemay estimated about 720 public servants were missing paycheques, while another 1,100 were missing payments for parental leave, long-term disability and severance. The other 80,000 hadn't been paid for supplementary or extra duties, overtime, or, like Bourget - pay adjustments. The money he's missing should have been a raise he received in June.

"As it goes longer, it adds up," he said.

He was one of about a dozen people who braved the cold to protest in front of the Greenstone Government of Canada Building on Monday. The Public Service Alliance of Canada North organized the Day of Action.

Bourget has two children at home, and says even though the amount owed to him isn't astronomical, it's affecting his life.

"With my wife at home with the kids, money's tight to begin with. Every little bit helps, and if you don't (get) it then that's another decision you have to make on what you're going to purchase or go without," he said.

Lemay said at a press briefing on Monday her department had managed to close 60,000 of those cases, around 75 per cent of the backlog. But that still leaves thousands waiting for cheques, including some in the North.

"I'm not the only one that's affected in our office, I know of several others who either entirely didn't get paid or got benefits missing," said Bourget.

One of those was standing next to him at the protest. Shaun Smith, a planning analyst with the RCMP, has been missing $2,000 in transition pay since she moved positions.

"Fortunately for me my actual pay hasn't been effected," she said. "For me, if I could wave a big old magic wand, it wouldn't just be me that would get my back pay, we've got a couple of people at work that haven't been paid in months, and we're talking full salary not getting paid. It's all these terrible stories about people. I'm back owed $2,000, but I'm getting by: these are people that haven't been paid in months, and it's getting to the point where it's ridiculous."

Regional executive vice-president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada Jack Bourassa said in July about half of the 500 federal employees across the North were affected - and that number hasn't changed.

"Whatever it's not doing, it's not doing it really well," he said of Phoenix. "We don't know everyone who has been affected because not everyone has come out to say so. But we know that at least half of them for sure still are having issues with their pay."

According to Bourassa, Smith and Bourget are the lucky ones. He knows of several union members who are missing "thousands of dollars," including one in Nunavut who hasn't seen a paycheque at all since February.

"It makes things very tough ... I know a couple people who have actually quit their jobs because they simply couldn't afford to continue working for the federal government," he said.

At the press briefing, Lemay said many of the cases remaining are "complex and require time-consuming manual calculations," and estimated about 82 per cent of these cases pre-date Phoenix. The Phoenix pay system was rolled out in February to replace an aging system, and consolidated all pay services for over 300,000 public servants across the country in a pay center in Mirimachi, N.B., where previously departments had managed payroll themselves. The first fully-implemented Phoenix payday was meant to be on May 4, but problems sprang up almost immediately.

"For employees, this is extremely frustrating. We desperately wanted to reach our target, and I want you to know that we will continue to work tirelessly to close remaining cases as quickly as we can," said Lemay.

She said the remaining cases will be handled by a "dedicated team of expert compensation advisers" in Miramichi, while the rest of the Phoenix team works towards rolling out what she describes as their "steady state." She said processing rates cases have "more than doubled" since May.

Bourget and Smith aren't buying it.

"Every time I've contacted them since they got the new call centres up, the most I've gotten is someone who has no access to the system, no way to tell me anything about my file, and so basically I might as well talk to a machine," said Bourget.

Smith tried calling the pay centre on Friday.

She said she identified the problem with her pay back in February, well before the government's June 1 deadline to report issues.

"They couldn't even tell me if I've been bumped, if a compensation adviser is even looking at my file at this point," she said.

Bourassa said this would be very different if it were any other employer.

"Anybody who has employees and doesn't pay them for months on end, they often go to court and the judge will force something, but you cannot not pay your people," he said.

"I mean, you have to pay your employees."

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