Unions join forces in Phoenix pleas to Trudeau

Unions representing hundreds of thousands of public servants are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do more to help workers plagued by the troubled Phoenix pay system. 

In a letter written Friday, 17 unions wrote about the need for the government to compensate employees for the stress they have endured as a result of the pay system forced upon them nearly two years ago. The letter goes on to request the prime minister halt the recuperation of overpayment cheques to employees. 

“Therefore, we ask that your government grant a remission order to exempt federal public service employees in receipt of overpayments from repaying the gross amount and only require them to pay the net — the same amount they actually received,” the letter to Trudeau states.

According to Treasury Board, there are 633,000 unsolved cases as of January 2018. The federal government department also notes that more than half of public servants have experienced some type of pay issue. 

The letter comes less than two weeks before public servants take to the streets in a major protest planned to mark two years since the problematic system was forced on public servants. Since then, tens of thousands of federal government workers have been under paid, not paid or over paid.

To show solidarity and to push for change, a group of public servants and union members held a noon hour rally at Booth and Norman Streets near Little Italy.

"It is affecting people's careers, people's relationships at home and people's finances. They have no idea if next week they will get paid or not and that's stressing and the mental health is through the roof," said Mike Sargent with the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees. 

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada says the government continues to add more resources to help "stabilize the system".

"We are devoting all the resources we can both human, technological and financial to make sure that the problems associated with the pay system are stabilized," Steve MacKinnon said. 

"We put a major priority on overpayments so that the problems associated with erroneous T4s could be elevated and we think we have taken a big bite out of that problem," he went on to say. "We have put a lot of resources into collective agreements so people can get retroactive pay and their raises they negotiated for."

Those who received overpayments were told to report the mistakes before mid-January or risk having to repay the gross amount paid — in some cases amounting to tens of thousands of dollars — rather than the net amounts deposited to their bank accounts.

The Phoenix system, initially approved by the previous Conservative government, was supposed to streamline pay for public servants across the country and save taxpayers an estimated $70 million annually.

But the government’s latest estimates indicate the total cost of the system will likely rise to nearly $788 million by the end of March.

With files from the Canadian Press.