Western student forced to drop courses over Phoenix pay fiasco
'If any other private company did this, the government would be on their ass,' Durrell Bowman says
A Western University student who worked an eight month federal government co-op position says the ongoing fiasco with the Phoenix pay system has forced him to live in poverty, borrow money just to get by and drop courses because he can't afford tuition.
Durrell Bowman is currently studying for his masters degree in library sciences at Western University and applied for the paid placement with the federal government at the Parks Canada National Library in Cornwall.
"I had heard about the Phoenix system problems, but frankly had thought they were over with or solved by the time I started," he said.
Bowman quickly found out that wasn't the case.
What went wrong
"Between my first and second co-op terms somehow the system decided that my pay was wrong," he said.
Even Bowman, who has a head for information systems, said he found it extremely difficult to track down who in the federal government could help him sort out his pay problems.
"I was calling and filling out web forms," he said. "Just a real pain to figure out who was able to help you because honestly, for a few months there was no-one who could help me."
Once Bowman finally did get help, he applied for an emergency salary advance.
Forced to drop courses
"It's an emergency thing when they don't pay you, but it's not your whole salary, it's 60 per cent and it's not an advance because it comes afterwards," he said. "It's the most bizarrely applied thing in the context of the Phoenix system."
Bowman says because he was missing the money, he was unable to pay all of his tuition and was forced to drop one of his courses over the summer.
It pisses me off, yeah.- Durrell Bowman
"I couldn't get enough money together," he said. "It would have cost an extra $1,000 or $1,500, I just couldn't quite swing it."
"I was just running out of money. I had to borrow about $600 at one point just to get through June," noting that when the federal government finally did pay him, he was paid in a lump sum, in which the government took nearly $2,400 in taxes.
Still owed $3,600
All told, Bowman calculates the federal government still owes him $3,600. Money that would go a long way for a student trying to earn his master's degree.
"I had to live quite frugally, I visited thrift stores to get a lot of my necessities," he said. "A lot of frustration. I mean, when you only have $1,000 or $2,000 dollars left, $3,600 is kind of a lot."
Bowman's money troubles have even extended to his accommodations. Instead of getting a room in a shared apartment, Bowman has had to find a cheaper way.
"I'm crashing with friends," he said. "They have a guest room. I'm staying there."
Now in his 50s, Bowman says he realizes he's entered a phase in life where people his age are typically financially secure.
"It pisses me off, yeah," he said. "They're trying to get the student things fixed, but suddenly taxing you at 50 per cent and not giving you the money back and giving you no way to get it, it's affecting a lot of people."
"If any other private company did this, the government would be on their ass, but it's the government that's done this," he said.
Problems affect thousands
Nearly 30 per cent of students who were on the government's payroll are experiencing trouble with their wages due to the disastrous Phoenix system, according to documents obtained by Radio-Canada.
As of Aug. 8, 4,382 students out of a total of 15,224 had been waiting more than 30 days for their pay files to be processed, exceeding the service standards established by the government.
That works out to 28.8 per cent of students working in the public service.
The numbers were prepared by the Treasury Board Secretariat for the ministerial working group tasked with fixing problems the government's electronic pay system.
What went wrong?
CBC News has obtained a copy of the massive 1,700-page IBM Phoenix contract. It provides new insight into the federal pay system failures.
Read more, including a look at the dozens of amendments to the deal that came at a cost that jumped by tens of millions of dollars: