North

Some Arctic federal workers not getting isolation pay thanks to Phoenix glitch

Many Nunavut employees say they haven't been getting isolation pay lately, and some say when they called the federal payroll services centre for an explanation, they've been told by call centre workers that they don't qualify anymore.

Many Nunavut workers say they're being paid erroneously, not getting their full pay, or not being paid at all

A hunter heads off onto the ice near the Iqaluit causeway in June. Many Nunavut federal employees say they haven't been getting isolation pay lately, and some say when they called the federal payroll services centre for an explanation, they've been told by call centre workers that they don't qualify anymore. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Federal government employees in Nunavut are feeling the pinch of the Phoenix payroll system debacle.

Earlier this week, the government revealed more than 80,000 people across the country have had problems with their pay. About a third of the North's 500 federal employee workforce are among them, according to the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Working in the North has its perks, but the problem is many employees in Nunavut aren't getting them.

A number of federal employees spoke to CBC on condition of anonymity for fear of being reprimanded. Their stories range from being paid erroneously, to not getting their full pay, to not being paid at all.

'You choose to live in isolation' 

One of the unique problems Nunavut federal workers are having is with their isolation pay, commonly called the Northern allowance – a bonus intended to offset the higher cost of living. 

Many Nunavut employees say they haven't been getting isolation pay lately, all the while they've still had rent deducted from their paycheques for their federal housing.

Some say when they called the federal payroll services centre for an explanation, they've been told by call centre workers that they don't qualify anymore.

After pointing out the fact they live in Nunavut – one of Canada's most isolated places – and should qualify, one person said they were told by a call centre agent: "You chose to live in isolation."

Being paid for the wrong job 

One man said he's received paycheques of less than $1,000 for months. To make up for the lost income, he's had to draw $10,000 from his RRSP. He fears what that will do to his tax bracket next year, and estimates the federal government owes him roughly $24,000.

"I have savings, so I'm lucky," he said.

"I'm not [as badly off as] other people in the office. Because this isn't only me this is happening to."

Another employee said after she switched departments, she kept getting paid from her old job. That prevented her new department from paying her – though the new job was a one-year posting in a lower-ranking position.

"I don't have access to my full leave entitlement, or acting pay when I'm filling my manager's role, or the extensive overtime that I've accrued in this job," she said.

"Furthermore, I have accrued over $2,000 of extra money [from my old job] from which I'm on leave without pay."

'Some of them are on stress leave'

PSAC leaders say the situation in the North is dire. Jack Bourassa, PSAC's regional vice president for the North, said the craziest story he's heard from across the North was about one man who hasn't been paid since February.

"They're not coping very well. The stresses for some of them, as you can imagine, are just insurmountable," said Bourassa.

"Some of them are on stress leave. They're making use of their leave that they're burning up. It created a very toxic work environment."

Earlier this week in Ottawa, Marie Lemay, the deputy minister for Public Services and Procurement, said the government is working as quickly as possible to fix the problems.

Still, Bourassa said the government has failed to live up to its legal obligations to pay its employees, and on time.

"There is just a lack of people to do the job, a lack of training for the people, and most importantly something in the Phoenix pay system itself is glitchy," Bourassa said.

"[The federal government] is either not able or not willing to provide the resources necessary to find out what it is and correct it."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Murray

Reporter

Nick Murray is a CBC News reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He specializes in investigative reporting and access to information legislation. A graduate from St. Thomas University's journalism program, he's also covered four Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports.

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