In the hours before attending a Liberal fundraiser at a south Edmonton hotel on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was dogged by questions over his government’s plan for the Trans Mountain pipeline project and ongoing NAFTA negotiations with Washington.
But as the prime minister entered the Delta Hotel Edmonton South on Wednesday evening, he was greeted by dozens of protesters bringing attention to another unsettled problem his government has presided over: the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system.
“Hey, hey, whoa, whoa, Phoenix pay has got to go,” protesters chanted, followed by, “‘Trudeau, Trudeau! What do we want? Paycheques! When do we want them? Now!”
The Phoenix pay system was implemented over two years ago with the goal of saving taxpayers money. However, the system has had serious glitches and more than half of all federal employees have either experienced being overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all.
The system is currently on track to cost more than $1 billion and earlier this year, the auditor general blamed the Phoenix pay system issues on a pervasive culture within government where bureaucrats are hesitant to report problems to their supervisors.
WATCH: Some videos from Global News’ ongoing coverage of the problems associated with the Phoenix pay system.
“This is real people who work everyday to serve Canadians and they’re not getting a paycheque,” Marianne Hladun, regional executive vice-president of PSAC Prairies, told Global News at Wednesday’s demonstration.
“Federal public service workers haven’t been paid properly for almost two years now and when we heard that the prime minister was going to be in town, we thought that it was important for him to actually see the faces of the people that he’s not paying.”
Hladun said workers affected by the pay system debacle range from food inspectors to border agents.
WATCH: Frustrated federal employees tried to catch Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s attention as he made an appearance at a Liberal fundraiser in Edmonton. As Sarah Kraus explains, the employees say the Phoenix pay system needs to be fixed – or replaced – now.
Mavis Callihoo works as an administrator with the RCMP and attended Wednesday’s protest. She said she spent time away on sick leave and didn’t receive a series of paycheques when she returned.
“It was difficult,” she told Global News. “I have a single income and I have family that live with me and depend on the same thing that every other family does… we all need an income, we work for it.
“I really appreciate my work, I appreciate the people I work with but the pay system has been horrible.”
Callihoo said she had to borrow money to make ends meet.
Last month, the Treasury Board Secretariat said it expects to launch a notice of procurement soon to find possible replacements for the current pay system.
The Liberals have said they are looking for private sector alternatives and that they want civil servants and their unions to test any new potential new system.
“The main message we want to put across is that while it’s fine for the government to say, ‘We’re working on it and we understand,’ they need to come out and look at the faces of the people who are impacted, the families who are impacted,” Hladun said.
When Trudeau arrived outside the hotel for the Liberals’ fundraiser, he waved to the crowd of protesters as he stepped out of his SUV and said what sounded like, “Thanks for coming out.”
It was not clear if Trudeau realized they were protesters or what issue they were trying to raise.
Police officers were present at the demonstration, which was peaceful.
–With files from Global News’ Sarah Kraus and The Canadian Press