Pay public servants for Phoenix stress, unions tell PM

Unions representing more than 225,000 federal public servants are asking the federal government to compensate workers for the stress and lost time caused by the troubled Phoenix pay system.

Letter to prime minister coincides with 2nd anniversary of troubled pay system's launch

Unions representing federal public workers want the government to compensate them for stress induced by the troubled Phoenix pay system. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC )

Unions representing more than 225,000 federal public servants are asking the federal government to compensate workers for the stress and lost time caused by the troubled Phoenix pay system.

In a letter to the prime minister timed to coincide with this month's second anniversary of the launch of the pay system, which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than expected so far, 17 union heads continue to push for assistance for their members.

The leaders continue to ask for a permanent fix that will ensure public servants are paid accurately and on time. They're also asking for compensation for the mental toll they say the debacle has taken on government employees.

"Our members no longer have any confidence in the pay process thanks to Phoenix," the letter states.

"We ask your government to accept that it owes its employees compensation for the suffering they have endured and continue to face."

Phoenix beyond repair, says union head

"We believe that Phoenix is probably too broken to be repaired," said Robyn Benson, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada in an interview with CBC News.

"This is two years that our members have been suffering. Two years of overpayments, under payments, no payments," she said. "People have had to borrow money. People have had to use credit cards. People have lost their homes because of what this government has done."

The letter also asks for changes to the way public servants are required to return overpayments.

Workers who don't manage to hand back the overpayments within the same calendar year are currently required to pay the gross amount up front. Union leaders want that adjusted so they only have to repay the amount after deductions.

"[The federal government has] an obligation to pay their employees and if they cannot do so, they have an obligation to pay them damages," Benson said.

Phoenix is too broken to be fixed and needs to be replaced, says Robyn Benson, the head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Workers rally outside NRCan

Around a dozen employees gathered outside the Natural Resources Canada building on Booth Street at the lunch hour Friday to protest the plagued pay system.

"I'm still very wary of trusting the system because we still hear horror stories to this day. You would think two years after the implementation, some of these things would be worked out," said Dusica Glisic who works in the building. While she hasn't experienced pay problems, she said she's been discouraged by the number of employees who come to her for help and don't know where to go for assistance.

The situation has had an effect on employees' mental health and it's time for the government to take action, she said.

Dusica Glisic protests the problem plagued Phoenix pay system at a rally outside the Natural Resources Canada building on Booth Street on February 16, 2018. She says she's avoided pursuing some career advancements because of Phoenix. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Minister's office admits ongoing problems 'unacceptable'

Last year, Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough apologized for the ongoing problems affecting employees. After the unions' letter was sent to the Prime Minister's Office, her office provided a response to CBC News.

"The problems faced by government employees as a result of the Phoenix pay system are totally unacceptable and our government is doing everything it can to resolve pay issues as quickly as possible," a spokesperson wrote in a statement. "We continue to work closely and collaboratively with public sector unions, and we take any suggestion that might help limit the financial hardship faced by our employees very seriously."

Tens of thousands of federal workers have experienced pay problems with Phoenix. The total cost of the system will rise to nearly $788 million if Parliament approves new funding.

That figure includes the $309 million it cost taxpayers to set up the system, and up to $402 million more it has cost to work on the problems that have arisen since.

With files from Kimberley Molina