Federal employees from Mountain Institution, Kent Institution and the Agassiz Research and Development Centre rallied on Highway 9 in February to show their frustration with the Phoenix pay system. Many still haven’t seen repayments after being over and underpaid – or in some cases, not paid at all. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)

EDITORIAL: Three years too long for public servants

Editor Grace Kennedy explains her opinion on the Phoenix pay system

It has been three years since Canadian public servants have received consistent and accurate paychecks. Three years.

You don’t need a more sensational lead than that.

For three years federal employees have been struggling with the Phoenix pay system, a quickly-implemented system that was intended to centralize payroll payments for 46 different departments and agencies and make it more efficient for the other 55 departments.

The theory was good: reduce overhead and time by using technology to simplify multiple complicated payroll systems that were designed 40 years ago. The application? Not so much.

When you’re asking one system to deal with employees from departments as diverse as the Canadian Dairy Commission, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the National Film Board, you have to spend some time making sure it runs smoothly. Which, if we remember the 2018 audit, definitely didn’t happen.

But the goal here isn’t to point fingers at management who prioritized schedules and budget over the livelihoods of nearly 300,000 Canadians. It’s to remind us all that those employees are still struggling to make it right.

RELATED: Confidence in the pay system a ‘pipe dream,’ federal employees say

Full disclosure: my partner is a public servant. He is very lucky to have never missed a paycheck under the Phoenix pay system, as others employed by the federal government have. But I still see the bi-weekly frustrations that come with each paycheck.

Sometimes they are too much. Sometimes they are too little. Occasionally, two deposits arrive in the bank and neither one matches what has been earned.

These issues mean he spends extra hours documenting time worked so it can later be matched up with what Phoenix thinks he earned. They meant several months of wondering if he was still part of his union because Phoenix hadn’t taken off his union dues.

For many of us, six months of Phoenix would have been enough to call it quits. Get out of public service and enjoy a steady job that offers a reliable paycheck. But these employees don’t.

They’ve stuck with it. They’re passionate about the jobs they do, the services they offer to our country — whether it’s keeping our corrections facilities running, researching agricultural science or patrolling our waterways.

These people are, in a very real sense, servants of the public. It’s time their pay was accorded the respect it deserves.

-Grace Kennedy, editor


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