Public service unions seek court order to force government to pay its workers

By on 07/07/2016

Public service unions representing thousands of Canadian government officials have gone to court over federal payroll problems.

Public Services and Procurement Canada, formerly referred to as Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) – the department responsible for the government’s internal servicing and administration – started rolling out Phoenix, a new consolidated pay system, across departments in February this year.

Phoenix, run from the Public Service Pay Centre in Miramichi, south-east Canada, it said, would be up and running in more than 100 departments by April and save the government more than $50m a year by streamlining services, reducing printing costs and speeding up the process.

However, since its introduction, more and more civil servants complained about not being paid with some not having received pay cheques for months, and on 28 June, Public Service Alliance Canada (PSAC) announced that it teamed up with more than a dozen unions to file a notice of application in Federal Court to force the federal government to pay its employees properly and on time.

“The federal government is responsible for paying public service workers on time for the work they do,” a PSAC spokesperson said.

“Unfortunately, the new Phoenix pay system is not working and hurting many public service workers.

“It is also putting excessive stress on the employees who process pay under the new system.”

The unions are seeking a court order directing the government to implement a pay administration system that meets its obligations under the Financial Administration Act and the Directive on Terms and Conditions of Employment.

PSAC also encouraged civil servants to set out their problems in writing to Judy Foote, the minister of public services and procurement, who has already received more than 2,000 letters of complaint.

The union has also been campaigning for PWGSC to rehire or deploy experienced workers into compensation and benefit jobs “until the integrity of the federal pay system is restored.”

Foote told CBC News on 22 June that her department was in the process of hiring 100 employees at a temporary pay centre in Gatineau, Que., to figure out the glitches and make sure workers finally get the money they’re owed.

Describing the situation as “not acceptable”, she added: “We’re putting in place a temporary unit now to try to deal with the backlog and to try to make sure that employees do not find themselves in the situation ever again. It’s certainly not acceptable to me.”

PSAC welcomed the move.

Civil servants most affected by the pay problems have been temporary, term, casual and student contractors who have been most affected, according to CBC News.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service is now approving loans to members who are having trouble paying their bills as a result of the pay transformation. The union will loan up to $5,000 free of interest.

Brigitte Fortin, assistant deputy minister at PWGSC, said in a technical briefing with reporters in April that public servants who are not getting paid properly should ask their departments for emergency cheques.

“Where employees’ pay is delayed, departments and agencies can issue salary advances,” she said, adding that “really there is no reason for employees not to get paid.”

Yesterday, PWGSC issued a four-step guide for civil servants who have not been paid and said in a statement that it was “working hard to fix these issues.”

It said it has Phoenix experts on site and online; hired 40 new compensation advisor trainees in January 2016 who have started to process cases; and recruited 50 additional temporary resources to answer calls and launched a “web-based tool to allow employees to receive an update about their cases within 48 hours.”

The statement continued: “To get paid, we encourage you to speak with your manager first. If your department already has a mechanism in place to report and escalate pay issues, be sure to use that option before proceeding with the steps below.”

The steps are:

1) Verify that your organisation is served by the Pay Centre. Click here for a full list of organisations that are. If your organisation is not served by it, contact your manager.

2) Contact your manager: Tell your manager that you are not getting paid. Your manager can explore the reasons why you may not be getting paid.

3) Contact the Pay Centre: Initiate a pay action request. If the Pay Centre needs paperwork to ensure you get paid, your manager can initiate a pay action request, which can lead to an emergency salary advance within five to seven days.

4) Follow up: If you were unsuccessful in resolving the issue, you may follow up on your case by completing the Phoenix Case Status Request form. You may also email the Client Satisfaction Bureau, which is a team of dedicated compensation advisors to quickly resolve issues. Email: PWGSC.ClientSatisfactionBureau-Bureausatisfactionclientele.TPSGC@tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca.

For more information, visit the PWGSC’s website.

 

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About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

One Comment

  1. Friendly Rant

    07/07/2016 at

    Although most can Ask for an ESA (emergency salary advance) employees that are on contract with flexible work hours, or “as needed”, cannot as their future hours are deemed unknown. I know of a few employees that are on casual contracts and although work full work weeks and have not been paid in up to 9 weeks were rejected when they asked for a salary advance. It seems odd that the government could hold all this money from its employees with no penalties but if you owe the government just 5$ the will charge you interest, admin fees, and registration fees. I believe that employees owed money should be able to reclaim some expenses they had to under go due to this system, such as interest on credit cards they had to pay after buying food to feed their families and having no money to pay off the balance.

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