Canadian union logs formal grievance over troubled pay system

By on 18/05/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Debi Daviau, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (Image courtesy: @PIPSC)

A civil service union has filed two policy grievances against the Canadian federal government, following a catalogue of errors in its computerised pay system which – they say – have led to civil servants going unpaid for extended periods.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) has accused the government of “continuously violating” the terms of its collective agreements since the Phoenix pay system was launched in February 2016.

The first grievance alleges that the government has made “continuous and on-going errors in pay”, which include failure to be paid, substantial delays, miscalculation, underpayments, overpayments, and inaccurate payments.

The latter include errors in overtime payments, extra duty pay, allowances, annual increments, retroactive pay, acting pay, promotional pay and payments in lieu of severance.

The second grievance relates to problems with disability, maternity and parental leave benefits, which violate both collective agreements and the Canadian Human Rights Act, according to the PIPSC.

The union is calling on the Treasury Board to formally acknowledge that it has breached collective agreements over pay and benefits, immediately pay all monies owed to employees, and process both pay and benefits in a timely manner, amongst other undertakings.

President Debi Daviau said that these are “fair and reasonable demands to make under what for many have been – and remain – extremely trying circumstances”.

“Our members have shown remarkable patience and, in some instances, astonishing forbearance in coping with the problems and deprivations imposed by the government’s failure to accurately and reliably pay the salaries our members are owed,” she said.

Policy grievances are filed by unions on behalf of all their members under a Canadian employment dispute resolution process that involves employers meeting with union representatives according to a strict timetable. The move comes after the PIPSC filed 600 individual grievances on behalf of members.

The Phoenix computerised pay system was brought in to save costs and boost efficiency by streamlining payment and tax systems across federal government departments. But it caused pay problems for 82,000 federal civil servants, with some overpaid, others underpaid and some not paid at all for months.

In March, the government disclosed that 284,000 erroneous pay transactions had yet to be sorted out. Earlier, it emerged that nearly CAN$70 million (€46m or US$51m) had been paid in error and about 50,000 tax slips had to be reissued to public servants.

Union dues that are collected by the government and handed on were also affected. The PIPSC, which represents more than 50,000 federal employees including scientists, engineers and accountants, has said it is owed nearly CAN$2 million.

On April 27, the government set up a task-force headed by public safety minister Ralph Goodale and launched a two-year strategy to address the problems caused by Phoenix.

The strategy allowed departments to retain the system’s expected annual CAN$70m savings to cover additional costs resulting from the errors. The government also pledged to provide employees who faced payroll problems with up to CAN$200 (€132 or US$147) towards their tax advice fees in relation to income tax for 2016 and 2017.

Treasury Board spokesman Martin Potvin told Global Government Forum that the task-force was utilising the experience of ministers and taking a “whole-of-government” approach. It will review plans and actions going forward to ensure the pay system issued are resolved, he said.

“Our focus is on ensuring employees are paid accurately and on time, and that the Government of Canada has a stable and reliable pay system,” he said. “We are working closely with the public service bargaining agents to resolve these issues as quickly as possible and minimise impacts on employees.”

Government departments are expected to use the reallocated savings to help resolve their employees’ pay issues and will be required to report on the activities and expenditures required to address pay administration issues, Potvin added.

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See also:

Canada’s federal pay issues to be ‘resolved by end of October’

Majority of readers have personally experienced federal pay problems affecting over 80,000 of Canada’s public servants

Canada’s 2017 budget: what federal staff need to know

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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