We often read about distant countries where unscrupulous bosses or reactionary governments impose unbearable working conditions on employees, or refuse to pay wages and salaries on time. Labour news sites are full of reports about strikes by workers who are owed months of back pay.
Well, for many employees of the federal government of Canada, that story is highly relevant. Since the launch of the Phoenix pay system two years ago, tens of thousands have received incorrect pay amounts, in many cases getting nothing at all for extended periods. The Auditor General reported three months ago that the number of outstanding pay requests continues to rise, reaching almost 500,000 cases. The latest estimates say that it will take years to fix Phoenix and cost far more than the $540 million already committed by the government. Just as astounding, the Auditor General reported that the Liberal government’s decision to lay off compensation advisors made it even more difficult to fix problems once the Phoenix rollout began, making a mockery of PM Trudeau’s attempts to blame the Harper Tories for the problems.
Now, 17 unions representing over 225,000 federal workers have sent a joint letter of demands, asking the Trudeau government to work with them to rebuild a system that will pay them accurately and on time. The unions also want urgent action to mitigate the many adverse consequences of Phoenix, and to provide damages to make workers whole for the hardships and stress caused by the system’s failures.
It’s true that the origins of this fiasco go back to the previous federal government, which said it wanted to cut costs. But it’s also true that payroll system failures are a frequent problem in the 21st century. It’s time to stop making promises, and to fix the problem once and for all.