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Unions call on government to extend compensation for public servants over Phoenix pay system

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Unions representing federal public sector workers gathered on the eighth anniversary of the launch of the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system and called on the government to provide additional damages for workers.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), made the comments on Tuesday, as the number of unresolved pay problems continue to pile up.

"Unfortunately, eight years into the pay fiasco, there is nothing to celebrate," said Public Service Alliance of Canada's President Chris Aylward.

"There hasn’t been a single pay period without issues. Workers are still facing constant stress and anxiety."

The Phoenix system launched in 2016. The goal was to save money by consolidating pay systems from more than 45 different government departments. It has since cost the government more than $2 billion to fix.

Since its launch, it has caused hundreds of thousands of compensation problems for federal government workers, who have been underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all.

In 2019 and 2020, the Government of Canada and a number of public service unions finalized an agreement to compensate employees, current and former, who were paid through the Phoenix pay system.

In an agreement with PSAC in 2020, general damages included compensation for "stress, aggravation, pain and suffering" and for the late implementation of the 2014 collective agreements. The compensation was a lump-sum payment of up to $1,000 for fiscal year 2016 to 2017 and up to $500 for each of the following three fiscal years, according to the federal government.

Unions did not specify what amount of compensation they were looking for and said monetary damages would be specific to each bargaining unit.

"The Phoenix pay system marks one of the most expensive and harmful pay system modernization failures in the history of the Canadian federal government,” said Nathan Prier, the president of CAPE, in a press release.

"Federal public sector workers deserve better than having their contracts broken on a biweekly basis for eight years. We will not rest until all workers fully compensated and this issue is resolved once and for all."

In addition, the unions are calling on the government to hire more compensation advisors and for them to receive proper training.

According to the federal government, there were 444,000 pay centre transactions ready to be processed as of Jan. 31, nearly half of which were received more than one year prior. The government processed 194,000 transactions between Dec. 21, 2023 and Jan. 31, 2024 and received 191,000 new ones.

"The number of transactions received at the Pay Centre has steadily increased since 2021. This increase, along with the high complexity of outstanding transactions that remain, have limited our ability to reduce the number of transactions outside service standards," says a statement on Public Services and Procurement Canada's website.

Non-union public servants also plagued by Phoenix

Not everyone who has been impacted by issues plaguing the Phoenix system are represented by a union.

Thousands of those who have been affected are contract workers who have not received any form of financial compensation in the past and will not be included in any form of payment in future agreements between the government and the unions.

"If it wasn't for the Phoenix payroll system, I'd still be working because I enjoyed the work, but I said I can't do this anymore," said Janice Mobbs, a retired accountant who has worked under numerous contracts spanning from 2015 until 2021.

“I was waiting around for my next paycheque which may or may not have an adjustment, or another adjustment on an adjustment. It’s just really frustrating."

Mobbs says she’s still dealing with issues from before 2020 and her complaints are not being properly addressed.

She says she has tracked the discrepancies and issues she has faced since the implementation of the Phoenix system, but there has been little to no progress on her open files.

“Over the years of calling up and asking ‘okay, what about this ticket number?’ Sometimes, I would find out they had actually closed the ticket number on me,” she said.

Janice Mobbs looking over a letter she sent to the CRA highlighting a discrepancy on her annual T4. (Austin Lee/ CTV News Ottawa)“I’d tell them, ‘hang on a second, it’s not resolved’ and so I would have to get a second ticket number for the same problem because they had closed it on me claiming it had been dealt with when it wasn’t. I’ve had that a few times.”

When asked what advice she would give to someone considering a contract role with the federal government under the Phoenix pay system, Mobbs was quick to answer.

“Don't. That's it. I quit because I was just getting so frustrated with adjustments that were being done without even any reason for it. I just was really frustrated, so if somebody is a contractor and thinking about it? No. I wouldn't."

“It’s a complicated payroll system that does not work and it’s not working for the employees. I don’t know why the employer still has it. I mean, it’s insane that it’s been going on for such a long time and we’ve been told ‘oh yes, we’re going to do something’ but nothing has been done.”

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Austin Lee

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