With just days until Christmas, frustrated federal employees again rallied in front of Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl’s constituency office Wednesday over the ongoing Phoenix payroll system debacle.
About a dozen employees from worksites including Mountain Institution in Agassiz and the RCMP’s training centre in Chilliwack gathered to wave placards protesting the ongoing and now notorious payroll system that’s shortchanging thousands of workers across Canada.
“The numbers we are starting to see are in the $20,000 and $30,000 range,” said Kirsty Havard, regional vice-president of the Union of Solicitor General Employees (USGE), which in the new year will be renamed the Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE).
“None of it is being corrected. It’s bad.”
Havard said she was dealing with one employee owed $25,000 in back pay only to get a recent correction of just $11,000. She can’t figure out why he did not receive the full amount owed.
“An apology doesn’t pay my bills or my mortgage,” read a sign one held by a worker at the rally. “Fix Phoenix now!”
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.
Since the Phoenix payroll system was put in place, thousands of employees have been receiving incorrect paycheques and hundreds, no pay at all.
There are 300,000 employees of the federal government and six months into the program, 80,000 of them had problems with their pay, usually being shortchanged. Some received emergency salary advances that were clawed back once some paycheques were fixed.
Some employees even received too much pay, and all employees end up needing to keep strict track of the complicated pay stubs they receive.
And it’s not getting any better, the workers at Strahl’s office Wednesday said.
“There is no end in sight, unfortunately,” Havard said.
Havard said the USGE under the umbrella of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) calls on the government to do five things: hire more workers in pay centres to expand the compensation capacity; recognize that damages are owed to workers impacted by Phoenix; dedicate staff to help employees figure out what they are owed; stop recoveries of emergency salary advances until employees receive full back pay; and recover only the net of overpayments, instead of the gross pay.
The rally at Strahl’s office this week comes two months after a similar one by different USGE employees in October.
As for Strahl’s response, he is supportive of the employees and he went so far as to sponsor an online House of Commons petition initiated by Erin Enneddam from Chilliwack.
The petition calls upon the federal government to abolish Phoenix and replace it with something that works “and to stop wasting tax payers money.”
As of Dec 13, the petition had received 1,357 signatures, 292 from B.C.