Employees and union leaders from federal institutions and departments in the Kent area gathered during their lunch hours outside of the Agassiz Research and Development Centre last Wednesday to protest the Phoenix pay system. Nina Grossman/The Observer

Federal workers rally for immediate action on Phoenix pay system

Workers, union leaders call for solutions following release of fed’s six-year plan

“I’m not sure if I know of anybody who hasn’t been affected by the Phoenix pay system in our centre,” says Anthony Friesen, the local Public Service Alliance of Canada president for the agriculture union at the Agassiz Research and Development Centre.

“We have members who, for over two years, have been out thousands of dollars and, regardless of the situation, these people are coming to work every day, doing their jobs.”

Friesen joined dozens of federal government workers rallying outside the Agassiz Research and Development Centre last Wednesday to ask the government for immediate action addressing the IBM-built faulty system that has been shortchanging thousands of federal workers across the country since 2016.

With flags waving and cars honking, the rally was high-energy, but a current of frustration ran through the group’s chatter.

The resentment isn’t limited to the Fraser Valley. Federal employees were rallying in cities across Canada on Feb. 28, marking the second-year anniversary of the disastrous system’s implementation. The rallies came only a day after the federal government’s new budget outlined plans to put $431 million over six years towards addressing the issues caused by the pay system, and another $16 million over two years to explore options for replacing it.

READ: Liberals vow to replace Phoenix pay system

In 2016, the computerized Phoenix pay system replaced some 2,700 payroll specialists across Canada with an automated system run by 500 people in Miramichi, N.B. And although the federal government’s new investment involves increasing the number of employees handling pay issues, it has still vowed to eventually scrap the program altogether.

But for employees with years of pay problems – some still owed thousands, – the federal pledge for a new approach provides little comfort.

“To take six years to fix a problem where people aren’t getting paid? That’s not acceptable,” said Dean Babuin, regional vice president for Eastern British Columbia’s sect of the Syndicat Agriculture Union.

“The people of Canada vote them into power and they trust that they’re going to take care of the country … If this was a private company doing this, there’s no way they would get away with this.”

After being introduced by the Conservatives, the pay system was implemented by the Liberal government two years ago, and there has been mayhem ever since, with hundreds of thousands of federal employees impacted – getting paid too much, too little or, in some cases, not at all.

The most common issues have been not receiving enough in benefits, overtime or pay differentials for temporary promotions.

Kirsty Havard, regional vice-president of the Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE) reported seeing some employees owed up to $30,000.

“Some of the workers have lost their home. They’ve had loans, credit card debt to cover things,” Havard said. “I’ve even represented people who have had to go to their family, friends or church for money.”

Jamey Mills, Public Service Alliance of Canada regional executive vice-president, stated in a media release that another issue for tens of thousands of impacted workers is over-payment error.

“The government is asking our members to repay the gross amount, which means they are asking them to repay more money than they actually received and hope it all comes out in the wash when they file their taxes. This government has paid their employees incorrectly, and now they’re supposed to ‘loan’ them money while they figure it out?”

Friesen said federal workers have no confidence in the system. He said the only thing they are confident in is that their paycheques will be inaccurate.

“This is a problem that was created by two separate governments,” he said. “I’m not sure they could have done a worse job if they tried.”

Employees from work sites such as Agassiz’s Mountain Institution and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada have been rallying with other federal workers from the region since last year.

They brought signs, placards and anger to the constituency office of Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl in October and December.

– with files from

Paul Henderson

 

The federal government’s budget, released Tuesday, allocates funds for fixing the issues caused by the Phoenix pay system and working toward replacing it completely. But federal workers say steps need to be taken sooner. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)

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