Public service workers endure six years of payday rolls of the dice

Amanda Moloughney with her husband and daughter Nadia-Harlow

IT’S A CRAP SHOOT every pay day for all 290,000 workers in the public service of Canada. Nothing is a safe bet. You might get paid, or you might not. You might get too much, or not enough. Insufficient tax deductions might leave you coping with huge pay reductions in future paycheques. The accuracy of T4 slips is anybody’s guess, It’s a crap shoot.

It’s been that way for six long years. Ever since the federal government decided to “improve” their payroll system with the computerized Phoenix program. Screw up, after screw up, after screw up followed. Every time they tried to fix it they made it worse.

The cost in dollars is in the billions. The cost on workers lives is indefensible and beyond calculation. The inability to fix it criminally incompetent.

A story in the Halifax Star in 2019 details the devastating personal impact on just four of the tens of thousands of public service workers who had been “Phoenixed”.

Zero pay

Glynis Donovan was a work centre supervisor at the HMC Dockyard in Halifax. Her pay stubs were frequently incomprehensible and incorrect.

She had no way of knowing exactly how much money she was owed. She spent about five hours each week keeping an up-to-date spreadsheet on the details of her frequently baffling pay stubs.

“In May of 2018, I had five stubs for one pay, and four of them were zero,” she said.

Donovan said she was in shock when she received her T4 slip needed to file her 2018 taxes. It pegged her salary at $95,000, about $30,000 more than it should have. She estimated that would mean an extra income tax bill of $5,000.

“I’ve been paying my taxes since I was 17 years of age, and I’m 60 and at this moment in my life I’m worried sick about CRA,” she said.

“I could’ve retired last year but I can’t let go until I get this straightened out.”

Seizures from stress

Amanda Moloughney, a parliamentary affairs worker in Ottawa, doing well in her job left her Phoenixed.

Despite two promotions, she didn’t get the pay raise she was entitled to. Just as importantly, Moloughney’s pay file being in limbo prevented her from adding her three-year-old daughter to her health benefits plan.

“I’ve had to postpone taking my daughter to the dentist,” she said. “It’s as if my daughter doesn’t exist.”

“I’m a Type 1 diabetic. I have to say the impact of this has greatly affected my health and mental well being. I’ve had seizures as a result of the stress,” she said. “I don’t sleep some nights worrying about when is my pay going to arrive.”

Mortgage problems

In the spring of 2016, Heather Boudreau returned to Correctional Services Canada in Edmonton from maternity leave. She didn’t receive a paycheque for 10 weeks.

By the fall, Boudreau had received an emergency salary advance from her employer but ran into another problem: her mortgage renewal.

“At the time, my pay stubs were zero — or not right,” she said. “There wasn’t a long history of having a proper paycheque to show them.”

“Every week was a blessing if I got any money — and it never, ever was correct,” Boudreau said.

Pension in doubt

Shaunna McInnis took the summer off work at the Visitor’s Centre at Kootenay National Park in 2016, but she continued to get paid by Phoenix for 10 weeks.

“Every two weeks I would call and say, ‘Please stop paying me,’” she said. She was told by the Phoenix call centre that they didn’t have the authority to stop the payments.

What McInnis worries about most is her pension.

“I’m unable to calculate my pension,” she said. “I don’t know enough about accounting and payroll. I don’t know what should be paid into — but I do want the pension at the end of this.”

Fear of being ‘Phoenixed’

A February 24 statement from the PSAC is headlined: “the grim sixth anniversary of the Phoenix pay disaster.”

“Since 2016, there hasn’t been a single pay period without issues,” says the statement. “Paycheque after paycheque, our members are still facing constant stress and anxiety wondering if they’ll be paid correctly.  

“To this day, Phoenix is impacting workers’ decisions to transfer to new jobs, take a promotion and even retire out of fear they’ll be ‘Phoenixed’.  

“Instead of shrinking, in recent months the Phoenix backlog has increased. There are still more than 141,000 Phoenix cases in the backlog, with new ones created every single day. Thousands of these issues date all the way back to 2016 and still haven’t been fixed.”

The statement says: “...the only solution right now is hiring more compensation advisors to fix the pay issues created every day, and to eliminate the growing backlog of cases.

PSAC negotiated $2500 payment in general damages for its members in compensation for the pain and suffering caused by Phoenix from 2016 to 2019, but the problems never stopped.

And the compensation payments themselves are reduced because they will be taxed—unlike other damages agreements.

The PSAC four point plan for ending the Phoenix fiasco includes calling on the government to:

  • Provide ongoing damages compensation

  • Make Phoenix general damages compensation non-taxable

  • Properly consult and engage with unions and federal workers on the next pay system

  • Launch a national inquiry into the Phoenix pay disaster

“A national public inquiry into Phoenix is the only way to measure the true scope of this disaster, hold the government accountable for years of inaction and chart a path forward to make workers whole again,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president.

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