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.