Ottawa·Phoenix Falling

Correctional officer takes stress leave due to Phoenix pay issues

A Corrections Canada officer in Alberta says she won't risk her life for low pay and she has taken stress leave due to issues with the Phoenix pay system.

'It's sickening. I can't do it. Not for that kind of pay'

Bogna Betkowski, 50, is owed almost $4,000 from the federal government because she has been badly underpaid for a month.

An Alberta correctional officer refuses to work until she receives $3,800 from the federal government and she has applied for stress leave due to continued issues with the Phoenix pay system.

Bogna Betkowski, 50, calls it a "slap in the face" to receive less than half of her usual pay over the past month because of the payroll mess affecting more than 80,000 federal public servants. 

She said her work, which involves monitoring murderers, sex offenders and gang members at a medium security prison in Grande Cache, Alta., isn't worth the danger if she's being underpaid. 

'I could be killed ... I do not want to risk my life for the rate of pay that is reflected on my pay stub"- Bogna Betkowski , correctional officer 

"I could be taken hostage," said Betkowski, who has been a correctional officer for eight years.

"I could be raped. I could be slashed. I could be killed...I do not want to risk my life for the rate of pay that is reflected on my pay stub."

Due to an error on her paycheques, Betkowski said she brings home the same pay as when she arrived in Canada as a Polish immigrant in 1991. She cleaned hotels to make a living back then. 

"Going to work for $5 or $11 dollars an hour — that's not right," said Betkowski. 

"That's absolutely unacceptable. It's sickening. I can't do it. Not for that kind of pay. It's just a matter of principle."

Bogna Betkowski is seen here more than 25 years ago working at her first job in Canada at the Royal Pacific Hotel in Calgary, Alta. (Submitted)

'I am dealing with insomnia'

Bethkowski said she first stopped working on July 11. She also submitted a claim with the Workers' Compensation Board of Alberta to go on leave because she is too stressed. 

She hopes government officials "will open their eyes" and see the personal toll the pay ordeal is taking on public servants.

"I am dealing with insomnia," said Betkowski. "I've been on prescription sleeping pills since the fiasco started. Otherwise my mind would be racing. It's the fear of the unknown. The next payday would be around the corner and who knows what I'm going to bring home."

I've been on prescription sleeping pills since this fiasco started- Bogna   Betkowski

Betkowski and her prison's warden of operations called the federal pay centre to explain the error, but they were told Betkowski's case wasn't a priority since she has received some pay. 

"I'm very angry. I'm very upset. I'm frustrated," said Betkowski. "Life goes on outside of work. We all have bills to pay. We all have families to take care of."

The government announced last week that public servants who haven't been paid should have their problems solved by this week. Those going on leave, retiring or taking long-term disability could see some relief in four to six weeks. Everyone should have their issues addressed between now and Oct. 31.

Toll on personal life 

Another correctional officer in Marmora, Ont., said she is seeing a therapist through Health Canada's employee assistance program (EAP) due to financial troubles stemming from the Phoenix pay system. 
Sophie Smith, a mother of two, works as a corrections officer at a medium security prison in Marmora, Ont. (Submitted )

Sophie Smith also partly blames Phoenix for her pending divorce after six years of marriage. Beginning in May, three consecutive paycheques arrived for a total of $0.

"My house is sold," said Smith. "I am moving Friday. Everything fell apart."

"I was so stressed I became miserable at home ... I don't handle stress well. Nobody was responding to my emails. I was crying all the time and not being able to function. I was being blamed a lot at home."

The government has now paid Smith enough money to cover two of her paycheques. Smith said she is still owed $2,000 and wants to go on stress leave, but can't afford it because she must care for an 11-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. 

I was so stressed I became miserable at home.- Sophie Smith, correctional officer

Two of the largest unions representing government workers told CBC News they do not know the number of public servants who have taken leave over troubles with Phoenix. The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat is looking into the numbers. 

As for Bogna Betkowski, she said she plans to return to work the day she gets paid her full salary. Her problem could take weeks or months to resolve, though.

The federal government expects to update federal public servants on Phoenix this week, and again after pay day on Aug. 11.

A spokeswoman with Corrections Canada also said about 300 emergency salary advances are issued by the department per pay period to address the non-payment of regular pay.

Have a story to tell? Contact ashley.burke@cbc.ca

About the Author

Ashley Burke

Reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca