Federal government workers exasperated over the continuing problems with their paycheques rallied in front of Chilliwack-Hope MP Mark Strahl’s constituency office Wednesday.
Despite the pouring rain, a couple dozen federal employees held signs and waved to cars on Vedder Road just after noon to protest the now-notorious Phoenix payroll system in place since February 2016.
Tens of 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 in to the program, 80,000 of them have 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.
Britton is president of the local branch of the Union of Solicitor General Employees (USGE), which is a component union of the broader Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).
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 federal employees, from MPs to office workers, complained of not being paid what they’re owed. The most common issues were not receiving enough in benefits, overtime or pay differentials for temporary promotions.
In the worst cases, some people weren’t paid at all.
Some 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.
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 some paycheques.
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 and 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.
“It creates tons of different levels of turmoil in the workplace, not just for the employees not getting paid.”
The rally Wednesday included Britton’s colleagues at Kent but also other PSAC employees, and it coincided with similar rallies in Victoria, Nanaimo, Prince Rupert and Vancouver.
As for why the rally was 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.
For his part, Strahl said he understands the frustration of federal employees with a problem that is not getting better.
“Our former Conservative government created the Phoenix system in an attempt to modernize the government payroll system, however it was the current Liberal government that launched Phoenix in 2016 even after significant problems were identified and not resolved prior to the launch,” Strahl said in a statement via email. “Employees who haven’t been paid don’t care about political games – they just want to be properly paid and that’s what they are demanding and that’s what they deserve.”
Strahl has spoken to affected individuals, but he went further and sponsored a petition they created, which he will present in the House of Commons.
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 Oct. 18, the petition had received more than 1,000 signatures, 205 from B.C. and closer to 300 each from Ontario and Quebec.
“The Official Opposition will continue to press the government for answers on their progress on fixing the system and thank the employees for taking direct action to draw attention to this ongoing fiasco,” Strahl said.