Union calls for more federal IT workers to fix Phoenix

As Phoenix pay problems drag on, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada is calling on the federal government to double the number of information technology experts tasked with repairing the failing payroll system.

Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada says more than half its members affected

A figure representing the failing Phoenix pay system waves from the PIPSC float during Monday's Labour Day parade in Ottawa. (Roger Dubois/CBC)

As Phoenix pay problems drag on, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada is calling on the federal government to double the number of information technology experts tasked with repairing the failing payroll system.

About 30 government computer programmers are currently working alongside IBM contractors to fix Phoenix, according to PIPSC. The union wants another 30 to 40 federal IT employees transferred over to help speed up the process.

"Outsourcing hurts all Canadians," said Greg Scriver, PIPSC's director for the national capital region. "The government keeps putting more and more money into it, and we could have done it a lot easier and a lot faster."

PIPSC represents 55,000 scientists, professionals and computer systems employees in the federal public sector. More than half its members have been affected by the Phoenix fiasco, said Scriver, including him.

His own problems started after he replaced his boss, who was on leave. Scriver said he found himself earning hundreds of dollars less instead of getting a temporary pay raise, but he said it was a minor problem compared to others he knows who weren't paid for months and risked losing their homes because they couldn't make mortgage payments. 

Federal IT workers have skills, drive

Scriver said the Phoenix repair team can draw from a pool of 18,000 federal IT workers who have not only the coding skills, but also the drive to fix the problems because they have the most at stake.

"As a public servant there is pride in working for the Canadian government. We would take pride in actually making sure the system works," Scriver said.

PIPSC has made fixing Phoenix its central mission, a message the union reinforced with its float in the annual Labour Day parade in Ottawa Monday.

A huge banner declaring the union was "on board to fix Phoenix" was draped across an open-top bus, while a spooky black mascot representing Phoenix danced and waved from the vehicle. As the bus meandered down Elgin Street, PIPSC president Debi Daviau chanted over a microphone, "We just want to get paid."

Daviau said this Labour Day should have been a celebration of better relations between federal public servants and their employer. Many unions were able to successfully bargain for improved collective agreements on behalf of their members, but Phoenix has cast a huge shadow over these achievements.

"Unfortunately many still aren't being paid and no matter what agreements are in place, it's really hard to celebrate the gains we've made in collaboration with this government," said Daviau.

PIPSC president Debi Daviau warns the ongoing Phoenix problems will make it difficult to attract and retain skilled federal public servants. (CBC)

Although the government has focused its efforts on resolving the most serious cases, new problems seem to arise daily. Documents obtained by Radio-Canada indicate 30 per cent of university students who worked for the federal government over the summer did not get paid properly, and one in every two federal public servants has reported a pay problem due to Phoenix.

Daviau warns that if the Phoenix pay problems aren't corrected soon, the federal government will face challenges recruiting skilled workers, and risks losing some of its best talent.

"All I know is that members are contacting me now, or posting it on Facebook that they're choosing to leave the government. They've found work elsewhere and they're fed up with waiting for the government to get this together. And they're leaving now. These are highly paid but highly skilled professionals that in some cases are not easily replaceable."

With files from CBC News