Phoenix Falling

Miramichi Pay Centre workers feeling Phoenix pain

Employees struggling with the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system at the federal government's Pay Centre in Miramichi, N.B., are so stressed out that dozens of them are on stress-related leave, according to the union and people working at the centre.

'It's horrible. Nobody wants to work there,' compensation adviser says

More than 50 people at the federal government's Pay Centre in Miramichi, N.B., are on long-term leave. (CBC)

Employees struggling with the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system at the federal government's Pay Centre in Miramichi, N.B., are so stressed out that dozens of them are on leave, according to the union and people working at the centre.

Of the 590 positions at the Pay Centre, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) estimates there are more than 50 cases of people on long-term leave believed to be stress related.

CBC News spoke with compensation advisers working at the Pay Centre about the Phoenix software and the impact it has had on the people in that office.

"It's horrible. Nobody wants to work there," one adviser said. "The morale is at the worst I have ever seen. We used to love our jobs. It was a fun job. Granted, our system was old and antiquated and it was prone to human error, but at least we knew it was human error and we knew how to fix it...This machine here we don't know how to fix it and it is all machinery error, software error." 

The CBC has agreed not to name the employees, who fear repercussions for speaking out.

Only 4 days of training

Their job is to ensure their colleagues in the federal public service get paid — something that has become much more difficult since the implementation of the Phoenix pay system began in February.

It was basically playing a game without any rules.- Pay Centre compensation adviser

The adviser said employers didn't get enough training to operate the new software. Another compensation adviser told CBC News that employees received only four days of training on the new system in January, and that when they raised questions, they were told the answers would come later.

"We are inexperienced. But, there wasn't really any training for Phoenix. We basically discovered things as we were going along. Nobody knew how the system was going to work until we tried putting transactions in... It was basically playing a game without any rules."

The message from managers was to make sure the implementation was "on time and on budget," one of the compensation advisers said.

Number of advisers plummeted  

The unions representing federal workers say there used to be about 2,700 compensation advisers across the country serving 300,000 employees before the consolidation of the offices and the move to Miramichi.

Today, the government says, there are 442 compensation advisers in Miramichi.

'Mental health has become a very serious issue and a very serious tempest that goes on every day,' says Donna Lackie, national president of the Government Services Union with the Public Service Alliance of Canada. (CBC)
Some advisers who spoke to CBC said the problems with Phoenix were too much for the reduced workforce to handle.

"Phoenix was supposed to cut our work in half. It actually doubled our work. So, you can't get rid of 2,000 people ... and double the work and expect the work to get done," one said.

PSAC says the backlog of cases piling up at the Pay Centre has grown so much that it's causing many compensation advisers to take sick leave.

Mental health 'a serious issue'

"Mental health has become a very serious issue and a very serious tempest that goes on every day," said Donna Lackie, national president of the Government Services Union, a component of PSAC.

Lackie said the union is asking its members at the Pay Centre to ease up on their employees and allow them their vacation time and weekends off.

The federal government has vowed to hire more compensation advisers to help with the backlog. CBC requested an interview from Public Services and Procurement Canada, but no one was made available.

Meanwhile, the workers CBC interviewed continue to show up to work every day to deal with the growing pile of some 80,000 files, each representing a failure of the Phoenix system.

"The thing doesn't add, subtract and chew gum at the same time, I'm sorry," one employee said. "Phoenix has problems."

Have a story to tell? Contact jennifer.beard@cbc.ca.