Ottawa·Phoenix Falling

National Defence ombudsman calls for hard deadlines on Phoenix pay fix

The National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman calls the ongoing problems with the federal government's Phoenix payroll system "extremely frustrating," and says he wants to remind employees who aren't getting paid properly that his office is there to help.

'This cannot go on indefinitely,' DND ombudsman Gary Walbourne warns

The National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman calls the ongoing problems with the federal government's Phoenix payroll system "extremely frustrating," and says he wants to remind employees who aren't getting paid properly that his office is there to help.

Gary Walbourne said he also wants concrete answers from the bureaucrats in charge of the payroll system about when the glitches plaguing it will be fixed.
National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne's office has received 32 pay-related complaints from employees since April. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

"It's not fair not to pay for the work they've done for us," Walbourne said about the military and civilian employees who have gone without proper payment — for months, in some cases — after the department implemented the new payroll system.

"We're more worried right now about students not being paid, casual employees, and the new hires, and especially those coming or going to maternity leave or paternal leave."

Spike in pay-related complaints

Federal government employees affected by the payroll glitch have been reaching out to CBC News to share their stories of the hassles and headaches, including a student with the Department of National Defence who hadn't been properly paid since January.

"It's extremely frustrating," said Walbourne. "Some of these cases are very compelling, people who are going without pay for months on end. This impact is being felt not only by the person who's not getting paid, but their families, the commitments that they have."

Since April 1, Walbourne's office has received 32 complaints about pay-related issues, compared to just seven in the entire 2015-2016 fiscal year, according to his staff.

Walbourne wants to remind employees with National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces that his office was created to ensure fairness for them, and that they can reach out for assistance.

'This cannot go on indefinitely'

"We're a confidential information service. So if anyone's having troubles, we do have contacts with the pay centre and can escalate the most compelling cases," he added. There's also an emergency fund for dire situations.

"Don't be shy about it. There are no ramifications for reaching out because you're not getting paid."

Walbourne says he understands that fixing the problems with the Phoenix system is a big job, but he'd like federal officials to provide some "hard deadlines" on progress.

"We keep hearing open-ended comments that this is going to take a few months to resolve. Well, I'd like to have some more detail on those timelines, because this cannot go on indefinitely," he said.

"Were we well prepared to go into it? I think the evidence speaks for itself."

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