The Phoenix pay system debacle is being felt by public service workers across Canada, but nowhere more intensely than in the eye of the storm—the Miramichi pay centre.
That’s the message PSAC President Robyn Benson and Donna Lackie, President of the Government Services Union component, gave Minister Judy Foote at their August 19, meeting.
“Workers there, who are working long hours struggling to deliver pay, are carrying the weight of the entire public service on their shoulders,” says Lackie.
Pay centre workers tell their stories at a union town hall meeting
Members spoke about poor working conditions, lack of support resources, and problems with failing technology at a recent town hall meeting with Benson and Lackie. Compensation advisors are frustrated that they do not have the help they need to get all of the work done, while feeling a lot of stress because of the heavy workload and pressure to deal with more cases than they can handle.
“It’s heartbreaking to see someone at their wit’s end when they can’t do their job,” one worker said. “We used to be able to do our job and be confident in it and efficient.”
Another worker spoke about seeing “people crying at their desks, people calling in sick, and people crying in the bathrooms” because of the stress.
“You have a group of members that are working so hard to ensure that everybody gets paid and gets paid properly but they’re faced with a system that isn’t capable of doing it all,” said Benson.
The union is bringing the concerns voiced by the Miramichi workers directly to Deputy Minister Marie Lemay.
“Morale in Miramichi is at its absolute lowest,” said Lackie.
The union has asked the government to bring in mental health experts on site at the pay centre.
Miramichi workers’ messages to affected public service workers
Compensation advisors in Miramichi also had messages to share with other public service employees.
“Remember, the people that work at the pay centre are employees too. We also experience pay problems,” said one worker.
“Hang in there,” said another, “We are working as hard as we can. We are trying our best.”
PSAC tells Parliamentary committee about pay centre conditions
On July 28, Lackie testified before the House of Commons Committee on Government Operations and Estimates about the working conditions at the pay centre.
- Most of the compensation advisors are recent hires and new to government.
- Public service pay is complicated, involving 27 collective agreements and tens of thousands of rules.
- Compensation staff were not given consistent or adequate training before the system went live.
- Before Phoenix was rolled out, PSAC warned the department of problems and repeatedly asked that the project be slowed down.
- When the system was rolled out, staff could not keep up with the files coming in while trying to fix the huge number of errors.
- Throughout the training and testing, the compensation advisors could not rely on the technology, and had nowhere to go for answers to their questions.
- However, the advisors have been very resourceful and creative, devising “work arounds” and sharing solutions to problems among their co-workers.
- The union gets calls on a daily basis from “broken compensation advisors” who fear losing their jobs.
- The workers are proud to work for the Government of Canada, but the pressure is becoming intolerable.