Public servants burned by Phoenix demand action from union

As federal public servants continue to absorb the impact of the failed Phoenix pay system, some workers want to see their union do more, including legal action or a possible strike.

Neither lawsuit nor strike in the cards, PIPSC president tells angry members during town hall

Edward Gillis, left, an executive with PIPSC, and PIPSC president Debi Daviau, right, listen to public servants affected by Phoenix during a town hall on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. (Julie Ireton)

As federal public servants continue to absorb the impact of the failed Phoenix pay system, some workers want to see their union do more, including legal action or a possible strike.

Their anger over the ongoing pay issues was evident Tuesday at a town hall hosted by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC).

Federal government scientists, IT professionals and policy analysts pressed their union leaders for answers to questions such as, why can't workers sue the government?

PIPSC president Debi Daviau told the gathering that by law, public servants cannot sue the federal government, but unions can file grievances, and that's exactly what PIPSC is doing.

Professional public servants attended a town hall on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, where they sought answers about their union's response to the ongoing Phoenix payroll problems. (Julie Ireton, CBC)

"For all intents and purposes we are suing the government. We are taking legal action through the mechanisms we have available, which in our case are through grievances," Davaiu said. "It doesn't sound as all-powerful as taking a class action lawsuit, but grievances can be mitigated a lot quicker."

Another member asked why workers can't just walk off the job — in other words, strike.

"If it's a legal issue that's stopping us, well, it's not exactly legal to not get paid," said David Alloggia, who works at Transport Canada.

Fines, discipline, termination

Daviau said that's a question she gets asked all the time.

"Literally everywhere I've been in the country, this is on our members' minds," she said. "Unfortunately, if you participate in an illegal strike activity or job action that isn't sanctioned through the legislation, our members could be fined and disciplined up to termination, and that's not a risk we're willing to take."

Public servant Bob Webster called for a public inquiry aimed at preventing such a catastrophic technological failure in the future.

He pointed to a similar case in Australia where IBM developed a pay system for Queensland's department of health, with results similar to the Phoenix failure. In the Australian example, a public inquiry was held.

Public servant Bob Webster asked the PIPSC president whether she's willing to push the government for a public inquiry into the Phoenix fiasco. (Julie Ireton, CBC )

"I would like to have a major public inquiry. I understand the auditor general will be looking into this and there's work being done by the various departments, but I think it's important to draw the public's attention to this sort of thing, because this is going to happen again," Webster said.

Despite their anger over Phoenix, public servants cleared the room as soon as the noon-hour town hall ended — and diligently went back to work.

"They're still going to work, every single day, on behalf of Canadians," Daviau said.