By Chris Aylward, National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada
For hundreds of thousands of federal public service workers and retirees, February 28th marks the seventh anniversary of the Phoenix pay system disaster. They certainly have no reason to celebrate.
Every paycheque is a fresh reminder that this government is unable to pay its workers correctly or on time. In fact, since Phoenix was launched in 2016, there hasn’t been a single pay period without significant errors. Not one.
There are currently over 400,000 pay issues in the system waiting to be processed, both old and new. Despite commitments from the government to reduce this backlog, the pay problems continue to pile up – growing by nearly 10 per cent per year since 2018.
And while the government has hired more compensation advisors, it is nowhere near enough. It takes years for compensation advisors to be fully trained to handle complicated pay files, and without experienced staff, the backlog will continue to grow.
Behind every pay problem is a frustrated government worker at their wits’ end after going weeks, months, and even years without their employer fixing their pay issues.
Without confidence in the pay system, federal workers continue to suffer at the hands of the broken pay system. Careers are put on hold, retirees wait years for their files to be fixed and public service workers even worry about taking maternity or parental leave for fear of being “Phoenixed”.
On top of that, the government is racing against the clock to claw back Phoenix overpayments dating all the way back to 2016. Why? Because the government has a six-year statute of limitations to recoup overpayments, and they’re rushing this plan out the door at the eleventh hour to recover what they can before time runs out.
Since last year, tens of thousands of workers have received letters in the mail claiming they owe the government money, but these letters are often unclear and lack specific details about the overpayment.
Of course, workers who know they’ve been overpaid should be expected to repay the money, but many people have also been underpaid time and time again, and have no way of proving whether they actually owe the government without a full review of their pay file.
Let’s not forget the blame for overpayments is entirely on the shoulders of this government, who underpaid and overpaid hundreds of thousands of federal public service workers through Phoenix.
It’s unfathomable that the government is forging ahead with their heavy-handed approach, nickel and diming workers who’ve already endured incredible hardship because of their broken pay system on one hand, while leaving over $15.5 billion uncollected from big corporations who received excessive COVID subsidies during the pandemic on the other.
Once again, average workers pay the price while wealthy corporations walk away unscathed.
The ongoing Phoenix pay disaster adds salt to the wound for more than 165,000 Public Service Alliance of Canada members in negotiations with this government who continue to be denied decent wages that keep pace with the rising cost of living.
Having lost more than 10 per cent of their buying power over the past two years, PSAC members – already some of the lowest paid workers in the federal public service – are having to make difficult choices to make ends meet.
Ongoing pay problems are the last thing they need.
As Canada’s largest employer, the federal government should be leading by example by making things right for workers affected by the pay disaster and setting the bar with wages that lift workers up, not put them farther behind.