Fin in the House: Fix the Phoenix Pay Nightmare!

 

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate on the NDP motion regarding the Phoenix pay system, or as it is known by many public civil servants, the Phoenix nightmare.

It has been two long years, and through it all, public servants have been unwavering. They have kept showing up for work, despite the fact that they have not been getting paid correctly, and they have continued to deliver outstanding service to Canadians. They deserve to be paid accurately and on time. When they are not at work, they are spending hours and hours of their time trying to fix their pay problems.

In September, I met with a constituent in my riding of Port Moody—Coquitlam who is an employee of the federal government. She returned to work on December 12, 2017, after one year of maternity leave and three months of leave without pay. She contacted my office because she was experiencing “significant anxiety and stress regarding my pay issues”. 

Following are some of the highlights of her email:

 I have two young children ages 1 and 3, who are in full time daycare at a cost of two thousand dollars a month. I pay for a large mortgage and strata fees on a townhouse. I returned to work at 80% capacity (4 days a week) in order to balance my duties at home, and therefore have a 20% reduction in pay, which is my choice, but necessary to care for my children. In order to return to work, I needed to purchase snow tires for my vehicle at a cost of $1,200 to ensure my children are safe in my vehicle. I also pay daily parking fees to be at work. Therefore I have considerable monthly expenses, and every dollar missing from my pay cheque causes me stress and anxiety. How can I be expected to perform my job well, and serve the needs of Canadians when I cannot be paid properly and on time?

I met with her, and as I am sure one can understand, this experience has been extremely frustrating for a busy mother trying to achieve a work-life balance. She completed the mandatory Phoenix pay centre training, which took her two hours. In the end, it resolved nothing. She called the pay centre numerous times, filed many tickets, and still there was zero resolution.

Here are some of the issues she has been having with her pay: There were erroneous union dues deducted while she was on maternity leave, totalling $180 in 2016 and 2018, and an overpayment of union dues in 2018. She was not paid for work on December 12 and December 13. Merry Christmas, indeed. There have been deductions for benefits over multiple pay periods which were incorrect and total almost $400, when they should be less than $100. On top of those issues, she is trying to buy back her pensionable service for when she was on maternity leave, but the pension centre has informed her that the pay centre miscalculated her pension buy-back amount.

As her MP, I am baffled as to why no one has met with her to review these issues and why they cannot be resolved. My office has intervened and written on her behalf, but we still have no resolution.

I have another constituent, who works at Service Canada, and was issued an incorrect T4 for 2016. She was told to use the incorrect T4 to do her taxes, which she did. As a result, she received a refund in excess of $18,000, which she knows she is not entitled to. Now it is 2018, and not only is she waiting for her 2017 T4, but she is still waiting for her correct T4 for 2016. I am sure that if it was the other way around and she owed $18,000 in taxes, her issues would be resolved by now.

What a shame. All that public servants are asking for is a payroll system that will pay them accurately and on time every time. Is it really too much to ask?

I received a letter which sets out another example:

I am a resident of Coquitlam and a federal government employee. I have been experiencing ongoing issues with my pay since last July. I have diligently followed all of the required protocols to resolve these problems with the pay center and Trusted Source to no avail and it was recommended to me that I contact my Member of Parliament. I am writing to you to seek your assistance in having my pay problems resolved and to express my frustration with the pay problems that I have experienced since Phoenix was implemented. I'm writing this also on behalf of my colleagues who are also experiencing pay issues, including not getting paid at all.

Not getting paid at all: that is unacceptable. Imagine how quickly Phoenix would be fixed if MPs and Senators were not getting paid at all. This has been going on for two long years.

Public servants deserve to be paid correctly and to be paid on time. Instead, they have had to push Treasury Board to compensate workers for penalties, interest charges, and other fees incurred due to Phoenix pay problems. They have had to hire tax professionals to help them with tax problems. They have had to apply for priority payments to try to alleviate financial hardship from not being paid. They have had to take the government to court and to the labour board, all to get their paycheques. It is ridiculous, and it is as bad as it sounds.

How did we get here? This was not some random accident. The governments have known since 2011 that implementing the Phoenix pay system would be a mistake. They were told by the union representing federal public servants that it would not work. However, the previous Conservative government decided to merge the pay and benefits services of all federal departments into one centralized service, located in Miramichi, New Brunswick, anyway.

The Liberal government then hit the start button and rolled out this disastrous program. Despite repeated warnings that problems were occurring and a request from the union to slow down the rollout and transfer of new files, they just kept going full steam ahead. Requests from the union were ignored, and public service workers are paying the price. 

Phoenix was supposed to cost $310 million to implement, and the Conservatives claimed it would save taxpayers $70 million a year. According to the Auditor General, it is going to take years and more than half a billion dollars to fix. That is just an estimate. In the meantime, workers and their families are suffering.

I want to finish by adding that many employees are now refusing promotions or parental leave for fear of losing their salaries completely. What kind of workforce have we created when there is this kind of issue, where there is this kind of prolific fear of advancing or looking to a promotion or going on parental leave? Sure, this is not everyone; this is a number of people. However, this is out there. I am hearing about it. I am sure every member in the House is also hearing from constituents in their ridings, public service workers who are just doing their jobs and want to get decent pay, on time, and what they deserve.

I urge all members of the House to do the right thing and vote in favour of the motion.