Phoenix payroll foul-up felt by Sudbury's public servants

Some of Sudbury's public employees are still feeling the pinch dealing with the troubled Phoenix payroll system.

Several members on public payroll face random deductions, late pay, or no pay at all

Jennifer Chartrand, a local public service employee, says she was only paid $790 last month, despite working full-time. (Markus Schwabe CBC)

Some of Sudbury's public employees are still feeling the pinch dealing with the troubled Phoenix payroll system.  

In 2009, the Harper government announced plans to overhaul the federal pay system by replacing the previous 40 year-old-system, and consolidating the service in Miramichi, New Brunswick.

IBM Canada won the contract to create that system, which was scheduled to roll out in 2015. That was delayed after IBM warned of "critical" defects in the system.

Phoenix finally went live in February of last year. By April, reports of problems came flooding in.

'Random deductions' taken off pay

Jennifer Chartrand, a local public service employee, says she was only paid $790 last month, despite working full-time.

"I work salary so my income should be essentially the same thing every two weeks. I come into work everyday, the same I would at any other time, but my pay varies every two weeks," says Chartrand.

"They take random deductions that they can't explain off my pay, and when you put in an inquiry to try and get it fixed, there's nobody that answers you."
The Canadian Senate wants to pull out of the federal government's Phoenix Pay system. (Ron Ward/Canadian Press)

She said the uncertainty in her pay schedule is causing undue stress on her family.

"Financially, you plan based on the money that you anticipate getting," Chartrand says.

"And when you can't anticipate getting any set amount, it's really hard to plan your life."

Chartrand says many of her co-workers on walking on edge.

"There's a lot of people…that won't even go on sick leave," Chartrand says.

"I know people that have recommendations to have surgeries, and they're delaying it for fear of what will happen to their pay if they go on leave."

Union telling members to file grievances, call MP

Monique Trudel, president of Canada Employment and Immigration Union Local 534, says her members are collectively stressed.

"Virtually anyone you speak to on Mondays before pay, they go in to see if a paycheck is being issued," Trudel says.

"It's the the first thing they do when they get into work."

Trudel says she's doing what she can for her members, but theirs is just one component in hundreds of groups across the country experiencing the same issues.

"We've been filing grievances, then advising [members] to go to their member of parliament to put in a complaint, Trudel says.

"Sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn't. Sometimes some issues aren't that high a priority. A person who's not getting paid at all is more of a priority than someone getting overtime."

Dozens gather at a Montreal protest on April 29, 2017. Demonstrators were denouncing the Phoenix payroll system, which has been unreliable since it came into effect last year. (Jérôme Labbé/Radio-Canada)

'An embarassment' says MP

Paul Lefebvre, MP for Sudbury, said the government has been on the "front line" of the Phoenix situation since day one.

He says there are people in Sudbury who work for the CRA, Service Canada, and other federal government agencies that are affected.

"We have tried to the best of our capacity to help them resolve these issues," says Lefebvre.

"Of all that have come to our office, we've been able to help them out and we will continue to do so. It is a mess that we have inherited, and definitely we are putting the resources to fixing it."

Lefebvre said the situation has been an "embarrassment for everybody involved."

Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre calls the mess created by the Phoenix payroll system an 'embarrassment.' (Erik White/CBC)

Harper's cuts still being felt

In a written statement, Steven MacKinnon, parliamentary secretary for the Ministry of Public Service and Procurement, said the Harper government's cuts to their budget is the culprit behind the mess.

"The previous government eliminated over 700 compensation jobs in departments, resulting in a shortage of capacity to implement a new pay system," the statement reads.

"To address the gap in capacity, our government is making the necessary investments which include increasing the number of compensation staff. These investments demonstrate our commitment to explore all options, leave no stone unturned, and we won't stop working until this problem is fixed."

"We inherited this mess, but we are committed to fixing it."

Steve MacKinnon, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, said that staffing cuts during the Harper years took away any capacity to properly implement a new payroll system. (CBC)

with files from Robin DeAngelis