Letter to Minister Foote - June 14, 2016

June 14, 2016

REGISTERED MAIL

Honourable Judy Foote
Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada
Place du Portage Phase III, 18A1
11 Laurier Street
Gatineau, Quebec
K1A 0S5

Dear Ms. Foote,

As you know from recent news stories, federal government employees are experiencing major difficulties both in their roles as the public service workers who administer and distribute federal public service pay and as recipients of those services. Systemic problems at the Miramichi pay centre are making it impossible for PSAC members to provide timely and accurate pay services in all cases.  At the same time, workers from multiple departments are either not receiving pay in a timely way or are receiving incorrect pay for the work that they perform.  

PSAC members in Miramichi are overworked and stressed as they valiantly try to complete work that used to be done by more than three times their numbers. Training on Phoenix has been inadequately and inconsistently applied. The recent report released on Mental Health in the Workplace advises that it is the employer’s goal “To create a culture that enshrines psychological health, safety and well-being in all aspects of the workplace” and that “this obligation belongs to every individual in the workplace.” Your department has failed miserably to meet this goal for workers at the pay centre in Miramichi.

The problems that employees are experiencing with their pay are too numerous to recount in detail, but many of them are having an extremely detrimental impact on public service employees. Some employees have been deleted from the system and have not been paid at all. Laid-off employees are not receiving employment insurance income because of illegal and unprecedented delays in providing records of employment. Missing or short payments are impacting employees’ credit ratings because they cannot pay their bills on time. Poor credit ratings could in turn lead to rejected security clearances. New moms aren’t receiving top-ups they are entitled to. Workers who have served the public for most of their lives are not receiving initial pension income because the pay centre can’t supply details of their separation to the Pension Centre.  Students aren’t getting paid. Perhaps most distressing, employees who are on disability, your most fragile employees, are not receiving insurance payments that they are entitled to because the pay centre cannot provide the information to the insurer. Your government has a clear and pressing obligation to fix these problems.

This untenable situation is the direct result of overly optimistic plans created by your department and the previous government. Regardless of who created the problem, the PSAC and public service workers firmly believe that your government must fix it as quickly as possible.

The PSAC has been meeting with PSPC staff since 2010 on a regular basis to discuss the transition of pay services to Miramichi and more recently the implementation of the Phoenix pay system. From the very first meeting we have insisted over and over again that 550 workers were too few to do the work that over 1,700 workers did within the existing pay system at the time. PSPC representatives consistently expressed their confidence that the efficiencies in the Phoenix system would make up for the reduced workforce. We have repeatedly registered our belief that an off-the-shelf system would not create the expected efficiencies within a pay regime as complicated as that in the federal public service. Our concerns were ignored by your department until very recently when it became clear that the project was not working as planned.

Managers, human resources advisors and people with financial authorities within departments and organizations have been given important new responsibilities that they often appear to be unable or unwilling to fulfill.

Workers in Miramichi and workers in departments and organizations have had inadequate training in the new Phoenix system. These problems have been accentuated as a result of apparent glitches in the Phoenix system itself.   

Although your department may genuinely be trying to fix these problems, it has created a situation for which there is no easy fix. As the department introduces fixes to solve one problem they open up the flood gates to new problems in another area.

As a result, we recommend that your department immediately take steps to implement the following five key recommendations:

1. The federal government, in its ill-considered haste to shed federal jobs, workforce adjusted over 1,700 trained and experienced compensation advisors from multiple departments and agencies across government. Some of these experienced workers have left the government while others occupy other government positions. A wealth of knowledge exists that can be tapped to help the department overcome the problems it has created for itself. 

The PSAC recommends that the government rehire or deploy these experienced workers into compensation and benefit jobs until the integrity of the federal pay system is restored. Furthermore, the federal government must offer incentives to induce these workers to assist it in fixing this problem, after previously advising them that their skills and knowledge were no longer required.

2. The federal government must immediately ensure that all departments have sufficient funds and human resources to ensure that internal departmental priority payments can be made to workers who have gone without the pay. Ministers must make it clear to their deputies and senior management that this is a government priority. The availability and process for accessing priority payments must be clear and barrier free for all employees, retirees and employees who are currently on disability insurance.

3. The federal government must immediately appoint an independent auditor external to PSPC to examine the reasons that gave rise to this crisis and recommend long-term solutions. The auditor should report to a joint body comprised of government and union appointees.

4. Many public service workers who have been denied pay by their employer have incurred extra debt, damages and costs as a result of the government’s inability to pay them properly. The government must commit to reparations for any worker suffering financial penalties as a result of missed pay cheques.

5. The government must ensure that employees’ security clearance and reliability status is in no way affected by poor credit ratings caused by the government’s failure to pay employees correctly or on time.

The PSAC believes that the recommendations contained in this letter will go a long way towards solving the pay problems created by your department. You should begin acting on these recommendations immediately. We will meet with you at your earliest availability and are committed to work with you to discuss how these recommendations can be implemented.

I look forward to hearing from you in the very near future.

Regards,

Chris Aylward
PSAC National Executive Vice-President

c.c.       Robyn Benson, PSAC National President
            Donna Lackie, GSU National President
            PSAC National Board of Directors

August 10, 2016
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