As we approach the end of the year I wanted to take the opportunity to update you about the Phoenix pay system and the steps PIPSC has taken to try and find immediate and lasting solutions to the fiasco we find ourselves in.
Despite our request in April that further phasing in of Phoenix be halted the government went ahead with the project. Since then our Institute activists, staff and leadership have been consumed with assisting members with pay issues. Countless members have experienced no pay, missing pay, overpayments, and others have gone without parental or disability benefits due to systemic problems with the pay system. Trying to navigate how to file a complaint has been cumbersome to say the least. It is shameful and unacceptable that we are so many months down the road and still have countless cases unresolved.
Over this period we have used a number of methods to pressure the government to act, including lobbying Ministers, MPs and senior government officials, communicating with the media, joining forces with other unions and escalating individual critical cases with the employer. We have advocated on behalf of members at consultation tables, joint union management task forces and in particular for groups like our northern nurses who have been severely impacted by the pay transformation. After mounting pressure Health Canada has dedicated its own resources in the pay centre in order to help resolve their unique situation. Over the summer, PIPSC offered its assistance to students who were disproportionately hit by Phoenix problems, providing guidance on accessing support from the Miramichi pay centre and even passing along to Treasury Board and other senior officials especially urgent cases we felt the government should expedite. We were able to see resolution of the vast majority of student pay issues before the start of the new school year. We hope this work shows to the next generation the value of having a union behind you.
With pressure and advocacy from PIPSC we saw the creation of a claims office at the Treasury Board to reimburse public servants who have had out of pocket expenses due to Phoenix-related issues. In addition, your union took the step to issue loans to members impacted by Phoenix. To date we have issued 14 loans and will continue to offer the loan program until we see the Phoenix system functioning as it should. As overpayments have been a consistent problem with Phoenix tax issues have become another area of concern. With the expertise PIPSC brings to the table on tax issues we worked with Treasury Board and the Canadian Revenue Agency to try and mitigate the impact on members. We held a Halloween rally with our own grim version of the Phoenix bird when the government missed its own self-imposed deadline to clear the backlog. The rally garnered significant media attention, keeping the issue alive in the eyes of politicians, media and the wider public.
We are finally starting to see some movement on putting better interim solutions forward. We have long advocated that the government’s policy of issuing emergency pay only to those suffering no-pay situations is unfair and leaves many others in hardship. We hope to hear soon that priority payments may also be issued to those experiencing hardship due to underpayments. We have also heard from many senior departmental officials that that they want to be part of the solution. We have relayed that message to the Treasury Board and PSPC and steps are now being taken to allow departments to input some information in the system to help speed up processing times.
As with too many recent IT transformations, our pay system’s problems are to a great extent due to the misguided and poorly planned outsourcing of a government project. The decision to go solely with an outside provider, IBM, and bypass our own CS community has meant that Phoenix failures are now more costly and complicated to fix. After much urging to look to its own IT community for solutions, I worked with PSPC Deputy Minister Marie Lemay in November to put out a joint call for CS’s with PeopleSoft skills (the program Phoenix is based on) to help find solutions.
You have my word that I will continue to make fixing Phoenix my main priority in the New Year. For now, I want to thank all of the PIPSC activists, staff and leaders who have been there for our members.
As I always like to say, we are Better Together.