More than 100 federal employees and supporters gathered outside the federal offices on Government Street for a lunchtime protest over ongoing problems with Phoenix payroll system.
One of those employees was Suzanne Medges, a support clerk who previously worked for the federal government, resigned in 2011 then came back to her job in July 2016. She said it took more than three months to receive her first paycheque after returning to work.
“I didn’t get paid and, even though I was working full time, I had to take a second job because there was no money coming in,” she said before marching with coworkers to the legislature.
“Once I did get paid, they used old information and started depositing my pay into my ex-husband’s account, even though I had clearly informed them of my divorce and given them my new banking information. They also put him on my benefit plan.”
The Phoenix system, for which the contract was first awarded to IBM in 2014 by the Harper government, was plagued by problems from the outset. By May 2015, IBM was recommending a delay in the planned roll-out of the system. The recommendation fell on deaf ears and by that June, payroll staff at the central system headquarters in Miramachi, NB reported they could not keep up with complaints from people who were not getting paid, or getting paid the wrong amounts.
The problems have continued and, although no definite tallies are available, one Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) member estimated that more than 600,000 active complaints are still awaiting resolution.
This, despite the fact the system has already cost the federal government more than $900 million.
Victoria worker Bob Lacquement, who retired from the civil service last May, has still not received his severance pay and is thankful his pension isn’t administered by the Phoenix system.
“I’m lucky that I have a pension. If I’d been counting on my severance package, I’d be getting pretty hungry by now,” he said with a wry smile.
Mark Baxter, an electrical supervisor with the Department of National Defence, hasn’t seen the salary increase he earned through his promotion to the supervisory position.
“It’s been seven months and I’m still not getting the correct rate. Most of the people working for me are actually getting paid at a higher rate than I am. Worse still, the summer hires we had working have still not been paid at all,” he said.
This week’s federal budget announcement earmarked $16 million to start the process of creating a new system, with a view to eventually scrapping the Phoenix system.
All that does very little to help the hundreds of federal employees in Victoria who find themselves angry and frustrated at the government’s seeming inability to fix the problems now.
“You can have 12 people working in an office and for some reason two of them will not get paid while everyone else is fine. It’s just the luck of the draw and it’s enough to make you very distraught,” Medges said.
Victoria Labour Council president Mike Eso was at Wednesday afternoon’s protest and spoke to the crowd of federal employees, urging them not to lose heart and to continue to fight for wages they’ve earned.
It’s time, he said, for the federal government to take action.