Student workers hit hard by federal government's Phoenix pay system problems
Federal government employees complain of being underpaid, or not paid at all
One student worker went five months without a paycheque.
Another had to call the government help centre 177 times before getting an explanation about why she was being underpaid.
These are just two extreme examples of how the federal government's new computerized pay system is causing significant problems for public service workers across the country, including students.
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"Every week I'm being told it's going to be fixed, but nothing is happening, and there seems to be no accountability," said Jarrad Yardon, a student employee with the federal government in Ottawa.
Yardon, 23, has not been given a proper paycheque since January.
He maxed out his credit card, exhausted his savings and fears he will be forced to drop out of university this fall, because he can't afford his tuition.
Making things worse for Yardon, he's stuck in an uncomfortable Catch-22.
He's employed through the federal student work experience program. To qualify for his job he must be able to prove that he is enrolled in school. This means if Yardon can't pay his tuition, he'll end up losing his job too.
"Come September, there is a very real possibility that I will be without a job, without money, in a whole lot of debt and dropped out of school," Yardon told CBC News.
Yardon says he's owed about $9,000 in back pay.
Morrell Andrews, another student employee, says she has been underpaid.
It took 177 phone calls to the government help centre for her to get an explanation about the problem.
"It seems like students are being disproportionately affected by this. Just because we're shorter term contract workers, and we're under represented because we don't have that voice to come together and organize and say this is a problem," Andrews said.
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Despite the pay issues, Yardon and Andrews both say they enjoy their jobs and hope to have careers with the federal government once they're finished school.
After Yardon's story aired on CBC Radio, the president of the treasury board, Scott Brison, reached out to personally apologize.
"It's pretty fundamental, in terms of an employer-employee relationship, that you pay your employees on time and accurately," Scott Brison said in an interview with CBC News. "We get that, and we have huge respect for our public servants and we are going to make sure they are treated fairly."
Ottawa rolled out a new computerized pay system, called Phoenix, earlier this year.
Workers across multiple departments have complained about lack of pay, being underpaid, or in some cases being overpaid.
The problem has grown to the point where Judy Foote, the minister of public works, called the situation "unacceptable" and opened a temporary work centre to deal with Phoenix-related issues.
Brison also encouraged public servants experiencing pay problems to call his office for help.
"This is a terrible situation for Canadian public servants. Our government inherited a mess from the Harper government. The Harper government let the system deteriorate," Brison said.
Bureaucratic BS: union
The union representing 170,000 public servants calls the situation a boondoggle.
"Stop the bureaucratic BS. Calling the minister's office is not going to do anything," said Chris Aylward, the national executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
"The government needs to take Phoenix offline, fix it, and put it back online. They can do that, and go back to the old regional pay system," Aylward added.
The union says 2,600 members have written letters of complaint to Minister Foote.
With files from Ashley Burke and Jennifer Choi