Federal workers feel the pinch as payroll problems persist

The federal government’s payroll system failure has hit a few local prison workers in the pocketbook.

Problems with Phoenix pay system are making it difficult for some federal employees to pay their bills

The federal government’s payroll system failure has hit a few local prison workers in the pocketbook, leaving them with little or no paycheque.

Kent Institution guard Doug Holloway says his trouble began three paycheques ago, when he only received about $600 in pay — less than half of his regular earnings. His next cheque was just over $100. And on Wednesday this week, he received nothing at all from the government.

He’s one of 80,000 federal workers across the country who have been affected by the glitch-riddled Phoenix pay system.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” he says.

Holloway was lucky to be given emergency payroll funding for the first two pay periods. That emergency funding is still less than his usual income, and comes from the regional headquarters, not the federal government. Each time his pay is short, he has to go through tedious amounts of paperwork, including a pay action request through his union.

He also has to put calls in to the hotline the government has set up to deal with employees. That’s resulted in absolutely no action, he says.

On top of all of this, his annual raise hasn’t been added and his quarterly shift differentials haven’t been paid out.

“I am getting help at the institution level,” he says. “And I do appreciate that they are trying to help. At the same time, it’s just like, wow.”

On Wednesday, the government told Canadians affected they were working toward fixing the problems. Eventually, costs incurred by affected employees, including credit card late fees and bounced cheque fees, will be covered by the federal government. They have also hired claims representatives to handle the phone call flow. But the calls Holloway has put in haven’t led to a return call.

“There is a hotline that I phoned,” he said. He was told he would receive a phone call within three weeks. “When I phoned today she said ‘we’ll put in another request.’ I told her, ‘I haven’t even heard back from when I called you, four days shy of a month ago.’ This is getting unbelievably frustrating, there is nobody you can talk to.”

He says he loves his career as a prison guard. He left being a mechanic for the chance to work in an Alberta prison three years ago.

“It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” he said.

But over the last six weeks, he feels the stress of not knowing when he’s getting paid has put him at an unfair risk.

“You have people that would like to harm you, and you have to be at the top of your game,” he says. “But this is at the back of your mind all the time. You have your brothers in blue watching your back, but that split second in the back of your mind saying ‘what do I do about my car payment?’ That split second can be a life or death situation.”

He feels he’s not alone in this pay mess, and hearing of more prison workers who are asking for emergency funding.

“Apparently it’s just random, and it’s just wherever the glitch is from Phoenix,” he said.

On Wednesday, deputy minister of public services and procurement Marie Lemay said the government is working on the problem. In the last two weeks, she said compensation workers have processed close to 10,000 claims. That brings the backlog down to 57,500.

That day, another 47 new cases of workers getting no pay were brought to the government’s attention. Holloway isn’t sure if he’s included in that number, the outstanding backlog, or if he’s even been counted yet.

He imagines it could be next year before he sees all his backpay.

The federal government has set up a page with information for affected employees.

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