Minister calls ongoing public service pay problems 'unacceptable'

The minister in charge of the government's fledgling new pay system says it's unacceptable that federal workers aren't being properly paid, after announcing late last week that a temporary pay centre is being set up in Gatineau, Que., to deal with the workload.

Temporary pay centre being set up in Gatineau, Que., for backlog will run 'as long as it takes,' minister says

Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote says her department is hiring 100 people to deal with the workload caused ongoing problems with the new Phoenix pay system. (CBC)

The minister in charge of the government's fledgling new pay system says it's unacceptable that federal workers aren't being properly paid.

Judy Foote, minister of public services and procurement, said her department is in the process of hiring 100 employees at a temporary pay centre in Gatineau, Que., to figure out the glitches and make sure workers finally get the money they're owed.

"That is why we're putting in place a temporary unit now to try to deal with the backlog and to try to make sure that employees do not find themselves in the situation ever again. It's certainly not acceptable to me," Foote said in an interview with CBC News.

The federal government introduced its new Phoenix payroll system in February, but ongoing problems have meant some federal workers are now facing financial difficulties.

Several unions representing government employees tell CBC it's temporary, term, casual and student contractors who have been most affected, and that in some cases they've gone months without pay.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service is now approving loans to members who are having trouble paying their bills as a result of the pay transformation. The union will loan up to $5,000 free of interest.

Unions and workers complain federal departments and the pay program's call centre have been very slow to react or to even provide a response to their concerns.

'Too bad that nobody cares'

Melissa Della Porta, a correctional officer at the Edmonton Institution prison, hasn't been properly paid for months.

"It's the bottom-line workers here who are being affected," said Della Porta.

"If there was anyone in management that this was happening to, the issue would be resolved by the end of the day. Everybody knows that. It's too bad that nobody cares to work this out."

But Foote said her department has been acting on the complaints.

"We took action immediately. Whenever there was an issue that came to our attention we dealt with the issues as they occured," said Foote.

Melissa Della Porta, a correctional officer in Edmonton, says she isn't being properly paid by the new Phoenix system, and that if higher-level staff were affected the problems would likely have been fixed by now. (Della Porta)

Auditor general looking into issue

IBM designed the multi-million-dollar Phoenix system, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada has said the company likely needs to take some of the blame. Foote confirmed IBM was responsible for designing, delivering and testing the system for the government.

"I've asked the auditor general to have a look at this file because of the issues that have come up. Whether or not there was the right amount of testing done, I think we need to determine that," Foote said.

"We need to determine whether the appropriate resources were allocated for this new pay system. We need to determine, was the time frame sufficient?"

Foote also said the temporary pay centre currently being set up in Gatineau will run for "as long as it takes."

"We want to make sure public servants don't go without a pay cheque. So we'll do whatever we have to do for as long as we have to do it to make sure the backlog is cleared up and that outstanding issues around training are taken care of," she said.