Danielle Smith: federal government’s Phoenix pay system still a fiasco

The Public Service Pay Centre is shown in Miramichi, N.B.
The Public Service Pay Centre is shown in Miramichi, N.B. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Ward

When I interviewed Alexandre Blackburn about his experience trying to get paid by the federal government, most of the questions that came in from listeners were, “is this story for real?”

Brace yourself for something straight out of Yes Minister – the British comedy series pillorying bureaucratic incompetence. And yes, it is real.

READ MORE: Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister is a British comedy series about the wheeling and dealing of political life

The fiasco that is the federal government’s Phoenix Pay System started making headlines a year ago. I thought the problems were resolved. Turns out they aren’t.

Blackburn got hired by the federal government as a summer student processing passport applications in May 2015. From there, it has been a comedy of errors.

It took 16 weeks before he was entered into the system so he could get his first paycheck. The delay was apparently because there was someone else on the payroll with the same name. I asked him why they couldn’t sort it out very simply by just comparing SIN numbers? That’s a mystery.

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The other problem is it appears there is a manual process to get pay adjusted for overtime, or time off. It appears this process is backlogged for months, perhaps even years, if the experience of others is any indication.

Waiting to get the extra pay isn’t such a big deal for most workers when they are still on the job –  but when they leave, it’s a whole other problem.

READ MORE: Ottawa invests another $140M in Phoenix pay problem

Blackburn quit his job to go back to school on April 28, 2017. He was owed  a cheque from the May 3 pay-period, his final paycheque from May 17  and his Record of Employment. Nearly two months later, he’s received none of it.

His case isn’t even the most egregious example. Some haven’t been paid for over a year; others are facing financial hardship, or may lose their homes as they don’t have enough money to pay the bills.

Imagine for a moment, if a private sector company were such scofflaws. Some government official would come down on them like a ton of bricks. Is it too much to ask the federal government to obey the law? Apparently so.

LISTEN: Alexandre Blackburn recounts his difficulties getting paid with the Phoenix pay system


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