PEI

Tax centre employees facing ongoing payroll issues could go on strike

Canada Revenue Agency employees — some already facing financial difficulties because of ongoing payroll issues throughout the federal civil service — could find themselves on a picket line before the summer is over.

Union says some workers not paid for months, also unable to claim E.I.

Employees at the Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) voted to reject a contract offer from Canada Revenue Agency. (Radio-Canada)

Canada Revenue Agency employees — some already facing financial difficulties because of ongoing payroll issues throughout the federal civil service — could find themselves on a picket line before the summer is over.

On Thursday, the Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) announced its members voted to reject a contract offer from CRA. That gives the union a 60-day window to launch a legal strike.

"Our members have spoken, and we will be prepared to take strike action if necessary," said Public Service Alliance of Canada president Robyn Benson in a statement. UTE is a component union of PSAC.

Any strike would come at a time when at least some members will not be financially prepared to hit the picket line. Employees with the Canada Revenue Agency were switched over to the federal government's problem-plagued Phoenix payroll system in April.

The union says there are some employees who haven't been paid since then. Others are seeing significant errors on their cheques costing them hundreds of dollars per pay period.

Mortgages, rents falling behind, says union

Term employees, new hires and employees coming back from leave are most likely to be affected, according to the union. The union says there are approximately 1,000 CRA employees who work on P.E.I., most of them at the GST processing centre in Summerside. About half of those are term employees working on three- to six-month contracts.

Doug Gaetz is the Atlantic region vice president for UTE. (Union of Taxation Employees)

"Mortgage payments are falling behind, rent, bills … your everyday financial responsibilities are falling behind as a result of this," said Doug Gaetz, the Atlantic region vice president for UTE.

Some employees are also facing significant delays trying to obtain records of employment after their contracts expire. Without those records they're unable to receive employment insurance benefits.

"For every one problem or one issue we're having, that's compounding other issues and everything's getting backlogged," said Chris Aylward, national vice president with PSAC.

"There's backlogs in all the different kinds of pay, in acting pay, in overtime, people are not getting their overtime, and they're saying it's going to take months."

Chris Aylward is the national vice president with PSAC. (Submitted)

PSAC invited its members to write to the federal Minister of Procurement and Public Services Judy Foote if they were being affected. The union says 1,600 members have responded.

This week the minister announced measures including the hiring of 100 staff for a temporary payroll processing centre in Gatineau, Que., "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.

Strike could increase hardship for some: union

According to PSAC, Service Canada is also providing interim records of employment so workers whose contracts have ended don't have to wait as long to receive employment insurance.

Doug Gaetz admitted all the financial problems could make this a difficult time for some members if the union chooses to strike. "It would possibly yes, depending on what type of strike we hold, it depends on what type of strike pay they receive."

He pointed out members have already voted to give the union a strike mandate, which he hopes it doesn't have to use.

"Our intention is to get back to the bargaining table with the CRA and Treasury Board as soon as possible. We don't want to go on strike if we can avoid it."

In an email, a spokesperson for CRA said the pay problems are being fixed as quickly as possible.

"Although the vast majority of pay transactions are being processed without issue, CRA monitors any pay issues on a daily basis to resolved them in a timely fashion," wrote David Walters, with CRA Media Relations.

"CRA is working closely with PSPC (Public Services and Procurement Canada) to improve the system and ensure timely and accurate processing of pay, which includes the issuing the Records of Employment."

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