Ottawa·Phoenix Falling

Thanks, but no thanks: public servant says pay advances do more harm than good

One public servant says the way the federal government had been giving and taking back pay advances during pay system issues is causing employees to trust them less.

Officials promise to fix problem and stop clawing back salary advances all at once

Student Ashley Black went two months without getting paid from her job at the Department of National Defence. (Submitted)

Some public servants affected by the Phoenix payroll fiasco say they are too afraid to take emergency salary advances offered by the federal government because they fear it could do more harm than good. 

Student Ashley Black said the advance only made her financial mess worse.

After two months without pay at her government job, the 21-year-old was finally supposed to receive her proper $1,400 paycheque on July 27.

But instead, the government clawed back the entire emergency advance she received. Black said she was left in the lurch again when she saw another $0.00 on her pay stub.

...it's just creating more problems and taking longer for everything to be resolved.- Ashley Black, student and DND employee

"I was really angry at the time. I started having a panic attack." said Black.

"My credit card was completely full. I couldn't pay my tuition. I couldn't pay my phone bill. I couldn't pay my parking pass for work. I couldn't pay gas. I was depending on my parents for everything."

Government officials promised yesterday to stop clawing back salary advances all at once and spread out the repayments over multiple paycheques.

But Black says it's too little to late and some workers have lost trust in the government's temporary solution.

"People are not even applying for emergency salary because it's just creating more problems and taking longer for everything to be resolved," said Black about some of her coworkers at the Department of National Defence. 
Some federal workers have received $0.00 pay stubs like this one. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Government makes changes

Ever since the federal government rolled out the new Phoenix pay system in February, complaints have been mounting from public servants reporting they are being underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all.

The number of government workers affected by Phoenix continues to climb by the hundreds. Government officials announced 894 new cases in the last two weeks.

It's staffed three new pay centres with 120 compensation advisors to help work through the backlog of 77,000 cases. That's down from 82,000 cases in mid-July. 

The deputy minister in charge of the pay system is encouraging workers struggling financially to apply for emergency salary advances to get by. 

There is no reason someone should go through financial hardship- Marie Lemay, Deputy Minister of Public Works and Government Services 

"There is no reason someone should go through financial hardship," said Marie Lemay yesterday.

"If they have a problem they can get money. There are processes in place for that."

The way the system is set up, those salary advances have been automatically deducted off a worker's next paycheque when that money was available. Lemay promised Thursday that problem will not continue.

"As of today we're not going to go and claw it all at [once]," said Lemay. "What we've decided collectively is that we will actually do this now on multiple pay periods."

Lemay said discussions are still ongoing over the details, but ensured that the money would be taken off in more than three installments. 
Marie Lemay, deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, says "no one should feel intimidated" by coming forward with their pay problems. (CBC)

Pay problems have domino effect

Black said she doesn't know what to expect in her next paycheque.

Yesterday, the government paid her back a big chunk of the money she was owed. But Black said she was taxed heavily and can't afford tuition.

Black is part of the federal student work experience program (FSWEP) and must be enrolled in classes to keep her job at DND.

She plans to pay only $500 of her more than $6,000 tuition on Aug. 25 and go back to school in debt paying interest to Carleton University. She also still has to pay back another salary advance.​

"It's really stressful," said Black. "I know tuition is a different story than rent. But it is stressful because if I can't pay my tuition, I can't go to school, then I can't keep my current job." 

The government says it will be holding updates every two weeks and is on track to address the backlog of cases by Oct. 31.

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