Ottawa·Phoenix Falling

Federal workplace charity donations delayed over Phoenix fears

When the federal government rolls out its annual workplace charitable campaign this morning, it will advise departments to delay collecting pledges from employees until the dust from the Phoenix pay system fiasco settles, according to campaign co-manager United Way.

Uncertainty over ongoing payroll problems has some public servants rethinking automatic deductions

Michael Allen is the president and CEO of United Way Ottawa. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

When the federal government rolls out its annual workplace charitable campaign this morning, it will advise departments to delay collecting pledges from employees until the dust from the Phoenix pay system fiasco settles.

The precaution — a first in the campaign's history —  comes as some public servants say they're afraid to sign up for automatic payroll deductions over fears it could lead to other problems with their pay. 

Since January, more than 80,000 public servants have reported being overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all during the government's transition to the new Phoenix pay system.

Some said they've maxed out credit cards, taken out loans, gone on stress leave or even quit their jobs entirely over the debacle.

I just don't want to go through the headache ... I wouldn't want it to affect my pay.- Emmanuelle Parker, Statistics Canada employee

Statistics Canada worker Emmanuelle Parker hasn't been affected by the Phoenix mess, and wants it to stay that way. 

"I just don't want to go through that headache," said Parker. "I wouldn't want it to affect my pay. I would be on the safe side and not contribute for this year anyway."

Statistics Canada worker Emmanuelle Parker says she won't be contributing to her workplace campaign this year. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

The federal public service is the single largest workplace contributor to the campaign, raising $33.6 million for 5,600 charities last year. Of that, $5.3 million went to campaign co-manager United Way and charities under its umbrella.

So far the Phoenix fallout hasn't reached United Way Ottawa, according to the non-profit organization's president and CEO, Michael Allen.

"We've seen no disruption or blips at all in the context of our giving from federal public servants," said Allen. 

But with current pledges set to expire in the new year, that could change.

Most signed up for automatic withdrawal

Currently more than 70 per cent of the 38,986 federal public servants who contribute to the campaign have their donations automatically deducted from their pay. But they signed up before the Phoenix problems began, and some may think twice before renewing their pledges. 

Public servant Jennifer Arkell has donated generously to the campaign for a decade, but is considering holding off.

"I'd certainly be hesitant," said Arkell, whose pay hasn't been affected by the Phoenix problems. "Do you really want to rock a boat that's not rocked right now?"

Public servant nervous about automatic payroll donations for charity

6 years ago
Duration 0:29
Statistics Canada worker, Jennifer Arkell, nervous about automatic payroll deductions for charity due to Phoenix pay problems

United Way Ottawa says it's well aware of the apprehension among public servants, and is taking steps to manage and mitigate their concerns.

"We want to be respectful, and there's a sense it's inopportune to ask them to give to their community when they themselves are struggling," said Allen. 

Holding off until Oct. 31

Instead of asking public servants for their pledges today, the workplace campaign is recommending federal departments hold off until Oct. 31, when the minister overseeing the fix of the Phoenix payroll system promised many of the issues would be resolved.

For the next two months the campaign will focus on reminding public servants why donating is so important, and sharing personal stories about how their donations help improve the lives of seniors, new Canadians, people with disabilities and children at risk. 

"We believe the campaign will be successful again this year," wrote the chair of this year's campaign, William Pentney, in an email to CBC News. "Public servants have a strong tradition of giving generously ... even when campaigns have unfolded during challenging periods."

The workplace campaign plans to reveal its dollar goal at its launch with the Governor General at Rideau Hall at 11:45 a.m. 

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