The Government of Canada’s Phoenix pay system has affected the financial stability of tens of thousands of public employees, including thousands of students and other temporary contract employees. The previous, Conservative government decided to introduce an automated payroll system that would supposedly pay for itself after several years by letting go of 700 compensation advisors in order save $70 million per year. However, insiders insisted that the system was not ready to launch in early 2016, and a combination of technical issues and a lack of training have led to hundreds of thousands of incorrect transactions. The current, Liberal government should have ended Phoenix, because it has had to spend $402 million fixing something that had already cost $310 million in the first place.
I presently work full-time as a Library Technician and Cataloguer on an eight-month co-op placement with the Parks Canada National Library in Cornwall, Ontario. I normally live in Kitchener-Waterloo and do not have a car. The work term is part of my studies towards a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS; “Plan C”) at Western University. At some point in April 2017, an error was introduced into Phoenix that caused my biweekly pay rate to be only 10% of what it should be, thus causing massive recalculations over my entire period of employment back to early January. On May 3rd, I received pay for a single day (instead of for two weeks), and on May 17th I started receiving no pay at all.
The government now owes me $5300, from $3800 in incorrectly assessed pay and more than $1500 in taxes incorrectly withheld even before the pay-rate error. My efforts to address the errors have not gotten me very far. I have contacted my manager, another manager, a staffing advisor, a finance and administration officer, an additional administrative officer, the Phoenix feedback process, and the Pay Centre, both by phone and by email. Everyone claims that the matter is out of their hands and that almost no-one has access to the necessary pay files.
Towards the end of May, the Government of Canada gave me an “emergency salary advance” covering 60% of what I’m owed for April. It is thus neither my salary–in fact, it is approximately minimum wage–nor an advance–as it is about a month late. Also, I once again did not get paid on May 31st, this time for the period from May 4-17. Meanwhile, Western University happily continues to post government co-op jobs, when it knows full well that these types of problems have been affecting student employees, especially at Parks Canada, for over a year.
My plan for the student co-op placement was that I would be able to save just enough money to pay my fees and tuition for the 2017 winter, summer, and fall terms and to complete my program by December. However, I did not have enough money at the end of May to pay the fees for my summer co-op placement and two courses. So, I had to drop one of the courses I started at the beginning of May. Also, given that I have no credit card or savings, I had to borrow $600 just to make it through to the end of June. I have no idea how I will cover my rent and groceries (and everything else) after the end of June.
I have my Ph.D. in Musicology (UCLA, 2003; “Plan A”) and recently researched and wrote Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion (2014) and Experiencing Peter Gabriel: A Listener’s Companion (2016). From 1999 to 2008, I taught dozens of music history courses as a part-time or visiting instructor at seven universities. I then studied Information Technology in 2009-10 (“Plan B”) and worked a little in website and web content development. Incredibly, $706 a month on welfare or an actual minimum-wage job are looking like pretty good options at this point!
See also Luisa D’Amato’s column in the Waterloo Region Record about how the Government of Canada’s terrible Phoenix payroll system has negatively affected me.
I just made an inquiry re Western’s Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program, in order to introduce myself and to ask about whether they have any preliminary scheduling information for the next several semesters. I’m interested to know what they’ll say, although I expect they’ll mostly just encourage me to apply.
I explained that after my BA in Music and Applied Studies Co-op at the U. of Waterloo and my MA in Musicology at the U. of Toronto, I completed my PhD in Musicology at UCLA and then more recently also a Co-op Certificate in Computer Applications Development at Conestoga College. I also said that in addition to my background in academia (research, teaching), music (e.g., choral singing), and my current work in public music history (books, articles, and conference papers), I have had several part-time jobs involving libraries, including a recordings’ research position at UCLA’s Music Library Special Collections, serving as the choral librarian of the Elora Festival & Singers, and my current volunteering in holds shelving and missing-item traces at the Waterloo Public Library. I also let them know that I once taught a course in popular music & culture for their faculty (FIMS), have developed a number of websites, took a pair of small-business/self-employment courses, and am currently a Visiting Scholar at Conrad Grebel University College at UW.
I wondered if there is an expected schedule yet for the five required courses in Summer 2016 and/or a list of what is expected to be offered in 2016-17? I said that I’m thinking of starting the program this coming summer, doing my second term in Fall 2016 (including some courses online, as I live in Waterloo), then doing a co-op term in Winter 2017 (taking one more course, possibly online, during that term), and completing the program in Summer 2017.
Re the CBC’s Most university undergrads now taught by poorly paid part-timers (includes an embedded player of the radio documentary):
Having a large part-time workforce of adjunct instructors is not an unfortunate consequence of under-funding universities. It is a planned consequence of higher education trying to sustain too many programs, taking in too many students, and having way more non-faculty employees (administrators, etc.) than it has tenure-track and tenured faculty members. Pat Rogers (of Wilfrid Laurier University) and Ken Coates (of the University of Saskatchewan, formerly of the University of Waterloo) have basically given up on higher education actually being for education. “Saving money” for student residence climbing walls and whirlpools is now the priority, even though money is not actually saved, because of hiring a new administrator for every little thing.
The “statistic” about an adjunct (a.k.a., contingent, sessional, etc.) instructor making $28,000 to $45,000 a year for teaching the same number of courses (four) as a faculty member making $80,000-$150,000 is misleading. Most adjunct faculty do not teach full-time: I typically made around $16,500 for three courses per year. Even as a Visiting Assistant Professor, I only made $22,000 for four courses. Maybe things are different in STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math), but adjunct instructors and faculty members in most disciplines simply do not make the kind of money indicated. Also, numerous Ph.D.s eventually leave academia and become things like school bus drivers, real estate agents, yoga instructors, and welfare recipients. Some of us also publish books and articles, present papers at academic conferences, and so on, but none of that provides a living wage. Writing usually works out to less than minimum wage (not to mention that it’s only a part-time venture), and, in fact, presenting at conferences costs money. Usually, it’s just faculty members who can get conference travel funds.
Most adjunct instructors continue to hold out hope for landing permanent academic positions, and they thus resist saying much about their circumstances of low pay, limited or no office use, no benefits, no pensions, and so on. Conversely, most tenured and tenure-track professors won’t go on record on this issue, either, because they would almost invariably appear to be unsympathetic. So, documentaries such as this one end up having to interview administrators, even though the over-hiring and over-prioritizing of them is one of the main problems in higher education today. If you don’t believe that this is an issue, see also the Huffington Post’s New Analysis Shows Problematic Boom In Higher Ed Administrators.
From August 1-8, I was on vacation in the Adirondacks in Upstate New York, staying at Vicky’s family’s “camp” (a.k.a., cottage) at Big Moose Lake. The camp was given to her grandfather (an attorney from Albany) for helping recover money lost by some inn-owning sisters. Big Moose Lake had also been the site of a notorious murder, in which a young man used the remote location to kill the young woman he had gotten pregnant. The story was transformed by Theodore Dreiser in his novel: An American Tragedy (1925) and then also further transformed (and re-set in California) in the classic Hollywood movie: A Place in the Sun (1951).
We thought we’d be roughing it, because a tree had landed on the roof and cut out the power a few months earlier. However, the electricity had been back for a few weeks by the time we got there and was more properly repaired on one of the days we were there. On the other hand, there’s no cell phone service in the area (but there is a land line), limited internet access (sporadically from a nearby inn or by parking near the local fire station), and no TV (although some camps do have satellite dishes).
The best option for internet, etc. is the nearby town of Inlet (a 20-minute drive), which has a public library, an excellent ice cream shop (Northern Lights), and other nice stores and a great restaurant (the Screamen Eagle). The next nearest town is Old Forge (about a 30-minute drive), and it is quite a bit larger.
I missed out on a fairly major hike on August 4 (Chimney Mountain), because I was trying to get over this swollen-gland and sore-throat thing and also had plantar fasciitis in my left foot. So, I hung out with Vicky’s two dogs, took some pictures, listened to a bit of NPR, and rested a lot. I also started reading this book I’ve been meaning to get through, as well as the Sunday, August 3 newspaper from Utica, brought by some additional family friends visiting from there.
When the others were around, I went to a craft sale at the Big Moose Community Chapel, helped with meal preps and cleanup, occasionally swam a bit (and/or floated on this plastic, inflatable island thingie), and so on.
We got some nice photos behind the chapel and down by their dock.
Unfortunately, the family staying with us (the Pyles, who are close friends of Vicky’s) unexpectedly had to leave on August 5, because their basement in Burlington, ON got badly flooded during a very heavy rain storm the previous night.
From mid-day August 5 until August 8, it was mostly down to three of us (Vicky, Emma, and me), except for a visit by Jeannine and her husband Charlie on August 7. On August 6, I joined Vicky and Emma for the hike up Bald Mountain.
I just ran Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (the free version) on my computer for the first time in a couple of months. It scanned 548772 objects, so I guess I’ve been more productive than I thought! I also have AVG AntiVirus (free) installed, occasionally run an older version of AVG PC Tuneup (they haven’t charged me anything to keep using it), and use EaseUS Todo Backup (free). Those are some good options, although they are less “cloud”-oriented than some of you may like. They are also not exactly fast, so run them overnight.