New payroll system leaving thousands of public servants in the lurch, says PSAC

A union representing tens of thousands of federal public servants is urging the government to delay rolling out the second phase of its new automated pay system after thousands of its members didn't get paid enough — or at all.

Public Services says there have been only 300 formal complaints about new pay system

Chris Aylward, vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says employees of agencies such as the Canadian Coast Guard are coming home to find utilities have been cut off, because a new automated payroll system has failed to deliver. (Department of National Defence)

A union representing tens of thousands of federal public servants is urging the government to delay rolling out the second phase of its new automated pay system called Phoenix.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada says thousands of its members included in the first phase of the project aren't getting paid enough — or at all.

"They're simply not getting paid. They're not getting paid on time. They're not getting paid accurately," said Chris Aylward, vice-president of the union.

Colin Barnard said he hasn't been paid since the end of February, except for $652 deposited into his bank account yesterday. He works for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans at the Pinkut Creek spawning channel in northern British Columbia.

"I've had to dip into my RRSPs twice already, and that doesn't make me happy, because that's supposed to be for my retirement. You know it's not a fun thing to have going on," Barnard said, adding that he knows five other people who have also had problems.

There are toll-free numbers for people to call if they're experiencing difficulties with their pay, but the government website warns of high call volumes and that employees "may get a busy signal and calls may be disconnected."

Message to the minister

With no cell service at the spawning channel where he lives and works all week, a toll-free pay centre help line isn't much use to Barnard. It took him 40 minutes to drive to a spot with enough cell coverage to give CBC News his message for the minister responsible for the department rolling out the new pay system, Judy Foote.

"Get your act together!" he said. "This is not working and, oh, by the way, I want interest and I want the taxes paid on my RRSPs that I've had to dig into."

Aylward said PSAC is hearing the most complaints from employees who don't work Monday to Friday from 9 to 5, such as employees of the Canadian Coast Guard who are out at sea for more than a month at a time. They don't have access to online banking to check how much has — or has not — been deposited into their bank accounts.

"They're coming home, back from sea and all of a sudden they're realizing their utilities have been cut off because you know for two or three pays now in a row, they haven't had sufficient funds in their bank accounts to cover off their automatic pays for utilities," Aylward said.

Aylward recently travelled to the government pay centre at Miramichi, N.B., to meet with members of PSAC who work the phones. He said they told him they're getting up to 7,000 calls per day, but that staff only have the capacity to help 2,200 callers.

Department says it's under control

Yet in an email to CBC News, a spokesman for Public Services and Procurement said the department has only received 300 formal complaints since the end of February, when the Phoenix system went online.

Pierre-Alain Bujold said that, for the most part, the 120,000 employees on Phoenix have experienced no problems, yet that with any big new IT project, there are some technical issues, which have almost all been resolved. 

Bujold said Public Services continues to work closely with departments to resolve pay problems and a web-based tracking tool allows employees to get updates on their pay.

"All employees who should have received a pay (i.e. whose information was entered into the system), have been paid," said Bujold.

Aylward said it's unwise for the government to add 120,000 public servants to the Phoenix system.

"We asked that Phoenix be slowed down and allow the employees at Miramichi who are doing the work to basically catch up. They have 115 to 140,000 cases not yet assigned to an adviser."


Alison Crawford is a senior reporter in CBC's parliamentary bureau, covering justice, public safety, the Supreme Court and Liberal Party of Canada.