Phoenix payroll debacle causing 'significant stress' and staffing challenges for coast guard

Canada's coast guard admits some staffers are "reluctant" to take on overtime or extra duties because of payroll problems. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has created a new dedicated team to help workers sort through pay issues.

Crews 'reluctant' to work overtime, operations now 'difficult to manage'

Canadian Coast Guard employees aren't refusing to respond in emergency situations. But while payroll issues continue, some are reluctant to take on overtime assignments while it remains uncertain they'll be paid in a timely fashion. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Public servants caught in Ottawa's Phoenix payroll fiasco are starting to express their frustration on the job.

And the early signs of backlash are emerging at the Canadian Coast Guard. 

"We are aware of some crew being reluctant to take on additional hours of work [overtime] or responsibilities due to complications with their pay and the new system," said Carole Saindon, a spokeswoman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"While this has been very limited at present, it is creating significant stress on those who manage the crewing of our vessels, compounding the stress of those that are being affected by pay problems." 

"The fact that Phoenix is creating concerns for our personnel that they will be properly paid is making the operation of our fleet and the services coast guard delivers to Canadians more difficult to manage," Saindon added. 

Since Ottawa implemented its new computerized pay system, more than 80,000 public servants across all federal departments have experienced pay problems. 

"Morale obviously is very very low," said Christine Collins, national president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees.

But Collins said she was not aware of any members of emergency search and rescue missions or seagoing personnel rejecting requests to do additional work. 

"They're not getting paid for their overtime, but they're certainly not refusing to do the overtime. If there's an emergency or if there's a search and rescue required, they will be there doing their job," she said.

The coast guard insists the added pressure crews are facing will not have affect public safety. 

"The coast guard's priority remains the safety of mariners and the waterways they travel, and this has not, and will not, be compromised due to any potential reluctance by employees to work additional hours," Saindon said. 

Phoenix 'project team'

Some coast guard employees on assignment have limited shore contact, creating a unique set of challenges for workers trying to deal with the Phoenix system. 

Christine Collins, the national president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, says morale at the coast guard is very low because of payroll issues. (CBC News)

"The negative impact of the problem is compounded because they're 28 days at sea," Collins said.

In response to that challenge, the coast guard created its own specific network to help employees. 

"The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Coast Guard have established a Phoenix project team that is working closely with Public Service Procurement Canada on behalf of all employees in the department," Saindon said.

"Coast guard has hired 28 timekeepers and two additional officers to manage pay issues and Phoenix requirements for seagoing and other remotely located personnel who are unable to access the Phoenix system," she added.

This appears to be the first department to create its own system to assist employees caught in the Phoenix debacle.

Docked Halifax ship not linked to Phoenix

Staffing issues have sidelined a coast guard ship in Halifax, but the department insists it is not related to Phoenix.

"CCGS Corporal McLaren MMV is currently non-operational due to the absence of two qualified engine room personnel. We expect to have the vessel crewed and back in operations later this month," Saindon said.

CCGS Corporal McLaren MMV is currently non-operational because of a staff shortage, but the coast guard says it's not related to current payroll issues. (Canadian Coast Guard)

"Its program has been assigned to another vessel. We are not aware of anyone on the McLaren crew not reporting for duty due to pay issues related to Phoenix."

Summer staffing issues are not new for the coast guard. 

A combination of vacation requests and an increase in the volume of work makes it difficult to fill all of the gaps.

"As well, recruitment and filling the growing demand for skilled crew is one of the biggest challenges facing coast guard and the marine industry overall," Saindon said. 

But the union insists that Phoenix is complicating recruitment efforts.

"Imagine having to tell somebody that's being hired, 'Well, we'd love you to come and work for us, but we don't know when we can pay you?' How do you attract people that way?" Collins said.


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