Error-ridden Phoenix payroll system leaves hundreds of Sask. civil servants unpaid

One correctional officer at Saskatchewan's maximum security prison has not been paid since December and is begging politicians to intervene.

Maximum security prison guard 'at the end of his ropes'

'The thought of not being able to provide, despite trying to be a hard-working, contributing Canadian is very disheartening,' said a correctional officer working at Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert, Sask. (Thomas Porter/The Canadian Press)

A federal prison officer who recently took a promotion to support his family won't be able to cover his bills unless he's paid soon. 

David Little is yet another victim of the problem-plagued Phoenix payroll system used for federal civil servants.

It does end up taking a tremendous toll on the person's home life.- James Bloomfield, Union of Canadian Correctional Officers

Little lives in Prince Albert, Sask., and guards inmates inside the maximum security unit at Saskatchewan Penitentiary. He took parental leave after his daughter was born in August, and returned to work Jan. 15.

In a letter recently shared with members of Parliament Ralph Goodale and Randy Hoback, along with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and CBC Saskatchewan, Little said his last real paycheque came in December.

"I deal with horrible things week in and week out," wrote Little. "To go in these walls and know no pay is coming my way, and that starting in March I won't be able to pay my bills any longer, horrifies me."

Civil servants across Sask. missing paycheques 

During the month of November alone, 45 staff members at Saskatchewan federal institutions told the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers they had been underpaid or not paid their base salary, according to spokesperson James Bloomfield.
'It's a kick in the pants,' said James Bloomfield of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. (Credit: UCCO-SACC-CSN)

Union officials said more than 360 employees at Saskatchewan Penitentiary went months without being paid a shift differential for evening and weekend shifts last year, as did staff at Saskatoon's Regional Psychiatric Centre, Riverbend Institution, and the Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge near Maple Creek, Sask.

"When we're losing $300 to $500 off of every cheque without any notice, or in some cases not getting paid at all, that is quite the hit. There is no rhyme or reason to it," said Bloomfield.

"It does end up taking a tremendous toll on the person's home life," he added, noting banks generally have not stopped taking automated mortgage and loan payments from federal employees' accounts. 

"I have waited on phone lines and been hung up on. I have sent emails and forms and everything you can think of," Little wrote.

"The thought of not being able to provide, despite trying to be a hard-working, contributing Canadian is very disheartening. This public servant is at the end of his ropes and hoping anyone can help."

Thousands of pay problems logged

Marianne Hladun, a Public Service Alliance of Canada executive who oversees the prairie region, said between 40 and 50 per cent of the union's 3,200 federal members in Saskatchewan have experienced a pay problem since the Phoenix pay system was implemented almost a year ago.

A woman in a blue shirt with glasses speaks into a microphone while standing in a newsroom.
Marianne Hladun is PSAC's Prairies regional executive vice-president. (CBC)

"Realistically that's a conservative number," said Hladun. "There are people who have not received overtime pay for a year."

Members of Parliament trying to intervene

Prince Albert member of Parliament Randy Hoback said his office receives calls every week from civil servants at their wit's end.

He said he's had "some success" bringing constituents' cases directly to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada. He noted, however, that the Phoenix payroll system "fiasco" has taken a toll on employees' morale.

Prince Albert member of Parliament Randy Hoback said his office receives calls every week from civil servants who are not being paid properly under the Phoenix payroll system.

"When they brought in this new system, they didn't have a Plan B for if it didn't work. It's so sad and there's no reason for it," said Hoback. 

"​You're sitting there making your monthly budget — you have a mortgage payment, maybe a credit card payment after Christmas, you have a car payment, insurance — now all of a sudden you don't get paid for two or three months."

Federal officials are working on setting up a satellite office in Kingston, Ont., to troubleshoot pay problems for Correctional Service of Canada employees, as well as those working for the Department of National Defence.