House Call with Carol Hughes

Phoenix pay system costing federal employees

You might not have heard about the problems afflicting the Phoenix pay system that the federal government uses, but if you are one of the 80,000 people affected by them, you are all too aware that a lot is wrong. Not getting paid, getting paid too much, having taxes deducted for the wrong province, and working with no benefits are among the problems plaguing the system. And while the government is laying the blame at the feet of their predecessors, the fact is the problem has been going on for half a year and they are the only ones with the power to fix it.

The Phoenix system was put in place by the Conservative government that much is true. It was designed by IBM and rolled out in February of this year. While a few glitches might be reasonable to expect for a new system, the sheer volume of troubles and the length of time it is taking to address them suggest the government may have bought into something they have  little control over.

Meanwhile public servants and especially new hires are scrambling to make ends meet. Imagine having a job and not being paid. It’s one thing to lean on a credit card for a week or two while you wait for your pay, but quite another if the problem stretches out over weeks and months. Interest rates on credit cards are not insignificant, nor are the fees attached to bills that are not getting paid. How is it acceptable that so many people are being forced to scrape by like this?

On top of those difficulties, new hires are also waiting for their benefits to kick in since the problems are related. These are additional costs that can really add up and affect entire families.

There are problems with lump-sum payments that may be used to rectify the situation as well. Big cheques are subject to big deductions and while that will get fixed when it comes time to file income tax, at this point it only amounts to piling on for the people caught up in the problem. On a related note, there are some federal employees who have been overpaid or continue to be paid when they  no longer work for the government. Those cases represent a different kind of tax headache.

So where is the fix? The government says they are committed to repairing the problem and are hiring temporary employees to address the backlog. That must be odd for those hires since they too could be caught up in the same problem they are there to fix.

It is imperative that government  puts in place the appropriate resources to immediately fix the problem. We can only hope it can be done within the confines of the Phoenix system, given the amount of money that has already been invested. These employees have already been inconvenienced enough and shouldn’t have to bear the burden of a system that obviously wasn’t ready when it was launched.