British Columbia

Phoenix pay system fiasco leaves nurse unpaid and unable to withdraw full pension

Two years after she left her nursing job at Kent Institution, Jennie Jackson is still waiting for her final paycheque, which is caught up in ongoing issues with the federal government's Phoenix pay system.

'It almost seems illegal to withhold my pay for two years,' says Jennie Jackson

Jennie Jackson has no idea when she might see a final paycheque from the federal government's Phoenix pay system even though it has been two years since she left her job at Kent Institution. (Belle Puri/CBC)

Every month Jennie Jackson calls the federal government to ask about the status of her final paycheque. 

Every month the Chilliwack, B.C. woman says she gets the same answer from a federal government phone line: People have looked at her file but no one has actually been assigned to it. 

Jackson, 38, is a former nurse at Kent Institution, a maximum security prison in Agassiz, B.C., who left her job there two years ago.

She says the federal government's troubled Phoenix pay system has kept her waiting two years for a final paycheque, estimated at $4,000.

And that two-year holdup has created a second problem. Without a final cheque payment, federal pension administrators have told her they are required to hold back a large chunk of her pension money. This is frustrating to Jackson, as she wants a full payout of her pension money to re-invest elsewhere.  

"It almost seems illegal to withhold my pay for two years," she said.

It's estimated that 150,000 public servants have suffered pay problems due to the Phoenix pay system, which has improperly paid more than half of all federal workers by depositing too much money in their bank accounts, short-changing them, or in some cases not paying them at all for long periods

Jennie Jackson has offered to forego the money owed her by the federal government so she can move on with reinvesting her pension. (Belle Puri/CBC)

Paperwork correct 

Jackson worked at the maximum security prison for five years when she decided to pursue her dream of working in a hospital operating room, and quit her job on Nov. 24, 2017. 

The married mother of three says she completed all the necessary paperwork as instructed by the prison's human resources department in preparation for terminating her federal government employment. 

She expected a final paycheque would arrive on the next bi-weekly pay day after her departure, or at least on the following pay day. 

When a month had gone by and there was no cheque, Jackson called her former employer to make sure she had correctly followed the termination process and there wasn't anything else she need to do to get her money. 

She was assured everything had been done properly. 

Jackson waited six months before she made another call to the Public Service Pay Centre to ask about her cheque and has been calling every month since then to find out what is going on. 

On three separate occasions, she's been told her case has been "escalated" to facilitate faster processing but nothing has happened.

Phoenix has improperly paid more than half of all federal workers by depositing too much money in their bank accounts, short-changing them, or in some cases not paying them at all. (CBC)

The IBM-customized Phoenix was launched by the federal government in February 2016. 

Last spring, the country's Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated Phoenix needs another billion dollars to fix it, and the process could take another four years. 

In the meantime, the federal government says it has taken significant steps to reduce and resolve pay issues caused by the failures of Phoenix. 

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada said more people have been hired to faster resolve issues. 

According to the government, the overall queue of transactions waiting to be processed has decreased 35 per cent since January 2018.

Pension held back 

Jackson says she is owed for her last two weeks of work at Kent, and vacation pay. The money would be nice to have but her primary concern is her pension. 

Until she gets a final cheque, the federal government's pension centre will only release 70 per cent of her pension money. The other 30 per cent remains with the government until it determines that she doesn't owe it any money. She says the pension centre told her it had to introduce this policy because of all the problems created by the Phoenix system.

"It's the only reason that's kept me fighting and phoning every month," said Jackson. 

During a recent call to the pay centre Jackson offered to forego the money owed her and accept a cheque for zero dollars so she can "move on" with her pension.

She was told that wasn't possible. 

While working at Kent, Jackson was represented by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC). 

The union says even if a person is no longer a member it is still committed to fighting on their behalf. 

"The government is severely under-resourcing the Phoenix process," said PIPSC employment relations officer Simon Cott. 

The federal government says it has 1,500 employees at its Pay Centre and regional offices and another 500 at the Client Service Bureau and Client Contact Centre to deal with Phoenix pay issues. (Ron Ward/Canadian Press)

That's little comfort to Jackson who has little confidence she'll see her money any time soon.  

"I might get it maybe when the kids are in university," laughed the mother of three grade-school daughters. 

"If it's already been two years, I don't know if I will get to see it." 

With files from Paisley Woodward

About the Author

Belle Puri

Reporter

Belle Puri is a veteran journalist who has won awards for her reporting in a variety of fields. Belle contributes to CBC Vancouver's Impact Team, where she investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community.

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