Scrap dis­as­trous fed­eral pay sys­tem, union urges

Times Colonist - - Business - TERRY PEDWELL

OT­TAWA — Give us a year, and we’ll built a work­ing re­place­ment for the trouble-plagued Phoenix pay sys­tem, one of the coun­try’s big­gest civil ser­vice unions told the Trudeau Liberals on Tues­day.

Tired of months of re­peated prom­ises that the sys­tem’s short­com­ings would be fixed soon, the Pro­fes­sional In­sti­tute of the Pub­lic Ser­vice of Canada (PIPSC) wants the gov­ern­ment to scrap the sys­tem and start over al­most from scratch — a call the gov­ern­ment isn’t dis­miss­ing out of hand.

“Af­ter nearly two years of prob­lems with IBM’s Phoenix pay sys­tem, our mem­bers have lost con­fi­dence in the prom­ise of fix­ing Phoenix,” union pres­i­dent Debi Daviau said Tues­day.

“De­spite all ef­forts to fix Phoenix, the num­ber of open cases of pay prob­lems has grown to 330,000 as of Oc­to­ber 2017 — with no end in sight,” said Daviau. “Enough is enough.” Her union rep­re­sents about 50,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees.

Daviau said the gov­ern­ment’s own IT pro­fes­sion­als are more than ca­pa­ble of build­ing a new sys­tem to end the pay cri­sis that has gripped fed­eral em­ploy­ees since Phoenix was launched in April 2016.

It should take ABOUT a year to build and prop­erly test a new sys­tem, based on Or­a­cle’s Peo­pleSoft hu­man re­sources man­age­ment soft­ware, Daviau told a news con­fer­ence, al­though she could not pro­vide a cost es­ti­mate for the project. “We al­ready have the ex­per­tise and the peo­ple within the fed­eral pub­lic ser­vice ca­pa­ble of de­sign­ing and build­ing it,” she said. “They just need the op­por­tu­nity to do so.”

The call was sup­ported by the op­po­si­tion New Democrats and the Pub­lic Ser­vice Al­liance of Canada, by far the largest civil ser­vice union with 180,000 gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees on its rolls.

“We wel­come any sys­tem that would pay our mem­bers,” PSAC na­tional pres­i­dent Robyn Ben­son said, adding that her union was pre­pared to work with PIPSC to en­sure a new sys­tem could be ad­min­is­tered smoothly.

“If Phoenix has taught us any­thing, we know that any sys­tem will re­quire thor­ough con­sul­ta­tions and test­ing,” said Ben­son.

A spokes­woman for the min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble for the pay sys­tem also ap­peared to leave the door open to a new ap­proach, say­ing the gov­ern­ment was pre­pared to work with the unions to­wards “find­ing a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion” to the pay prob­lems.

The depart­ment “con­tin­ues to work with all part­ners in­clud­ing union lead­er­ship to find in­no­va­tive and ef­fi­cient so­lu­tions to the pay is­sues,” Pub­lic Ser­vices Min­is­ter Carla Qual­trough’s press sec­re­tary Ash­ley Mich­nowski said in an emailed state­ment.

Mich­nowski added the gov­ern­ment was await­ing the find­ings of an au­di­tor gen­eral’s re­port on the Phoenix de­ba­cle, which is to be made pub­lic next week.

Over the week­end, Qual­trough said she could not guar­an­tee the ul­ti­mate cost of fix­ing the prob­lems wouldn’t reach $1 bil­lion.

When asked whether the cost to fix the pub­lic ser­vice pay sys­tem could reach that amount, the min­is­ter told CTV’s Ques­tion Pe­riod “I hope not,” but of­fered no as­sur­ances about the ul­ti­mate price tag.

Shortly af­ter Phoenix went on­line, thou­sands of civil ser­vants be­gan re­port­ing that they had been un­der­paid, over­paid or not paid at all — and in many cases, the prob­lems ex­tended over months.

The au­to­mated sys­tem, de­signed to stream­line gov­ern­ment’s an­ti­quated pay sys­tem, was sup­posed to save Ot­tawa about $70 mil­lion a year.

In­stead, the gov­ern­ment has ear­marked hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to fix it, even as a back­log of prob­lem cases grows larger.

Dur­ing the sum­mer, the Trea­sury Board of Canada is­sued a no­tice that it was planning to con­tract Or­a­cle Canada — the com­pany that pro­duced the soft­ware at the core of the Phoenix sys­tem — to as­sess the sys­tem in hopes of sta­bi­liz­ing it.

The $2 mil­lion sole-source con­tract was for a pe­riod of six months, end­ing March 31, 2018.

The Se­nate has al­ready set out to find a re­place­ment sys­tem to pay its own em­ploy­ees.

Debi Daviau, pres­i­dent of one of the coun­try's big­gest civil ser­vice unions, is call­ing on Ot­tawa to kill the civil ser­vice pay sys­tem and start over from scratch.

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