Public Service Minister Judy Foote offers emergency pay cheques amid Phoenix debacle
Miramichi Pay Centre employees told more help is on the way to deal with payroll backlog
Nearly 500 of the federal government employees who hadn't been paid since the Phoenix payroll system was rolled out earlier this year received a paycheque on Wednesday, and all other public servants can now access emergency paycheques, says Public Services Minister Judy Foote.
She made the comments following meetings with the Miramichi Pay Centre employees in New Brunswick, where she offered assurances their jobs are safe and that more help is on the way.
Fifty additional people have been hired in Miramichi, and the government is also considering setting up some "regional hubs," in addition to the temporary facility already opened in Gatineau, Que., to ease the load and clear the backlog of cases, said Foote.
"In the long term, there may very well be additional employees. Right now, we have to get the system that we have working in the way that it was intended to work," she said.
"I'm not focused on the cost of fixing the problem, I'm focused on fixing the problem; I'm focused on making sure people get the money they're owed for jobs performed."
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Foote's comments come one day before MPs are scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on the bungled payroll system that has left 80,000 federal public servants across the country with pay problems, or no pay at all. Opposition parties demanded the meeting after hearing from thousands of affected constituents.
"It's totally unacceptable that anyone should go without a paycheque for any period of time," she told CBC News.
Of the estimated 720 employees — mostly new hires and summer students — who hadn't received any pay for several months, 486 have now been paid, she said. The remainder could not be processed because of insufficient information entered by their departments, but should be paid by the next paycheque, she added.
"The reality is that there are some hardship stories out there. I find them heartbreaking. I know it's really difficult and that's why I encourage any employee out there who's going without a paycheque to go for that emergency advance cheque as many occasions as you need to."
Every department has the ability to issue emergency paycheques, she said. "What we're saying to employees is if you're not getting paid, reach out to us, let us know because we follow up as soon as we know."
Pay centre workers praised
Foote also expressed sympathy for the approximately 540 Miramichi Pay Centre employees who have been scrambling to deal with the problems.
"First and foremost I came here to compliment them on the job that they're doing," she said. "It was important to do that, to have them realize that what's happening with Phoenix has nothing to do with them; that they're doing a really good job. I came to reassure them that the pay centre would not be leaving Miramichi and that we're going to work with them to try to resolve some of the issues that they're dealing with on a daily basis."
Earlier this week, CBC News reported about 50 of the pay centre employees are on long-term leave believed to be stress-related. Foote put the number at 28, and called it a "serious issue."
"I am very confident that there's no threat to the jobs here in Miramichi," she said. "All the skies are bright for Miramichi."
Coun. Chad Duplessie was equally optimistic. He said rolling out such a large, complex system was bound to come with some "hiccups" and urged patience with the federal government and "the experts" working on the troubled system.
"I know as a city councillor and as a representative of the city, I'm happy to give them their time to breathe and let them solve this problem, and we have every reason to believe … the solution does exist here in Miramichi."
Phoenix was initiated by Stephen Harper's Conservatives and was rolled out in phases under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's watch earlier this year amid warnings from the largest union representing federal public servants that there would be problems.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada said thousands of its members experienced problems during the first phase of the rollout, which began in late February, and in April the union urged the Liberals not to move ahead with the next phase.
On Wednesday, Foote said she had asked repeatedly whether the system was "OK" to be rolled out and was assured it was, after some 16,000 different pay scenarios had been reviewed. Some scenarios "weren't thought through or considered," she said.
Still, Foote said, there was "no question" the previous 40-year-old system, which had failed on occasion, needed to be modernized.
The payroll system is the largest in the country, covering 300,000 employees.
With files from Jill English and Harry Forestell