A former federal compensation adviser who was laid off and chose to retire when Ottawa transitioned to the new Phoenix payroll system now finds herself on the other end of the phone, trying to get answers on over $100,000 she’s owed in termination benefits.
Kathryn McCalder spent the final stretch of her 40-year career as a compensation adviser and project officer, helping other public servants get money they were owed as quickly as possible.
The 64-year-old chose to retire in March after her job was eliminated when all of Health Canada’s files were sent to the government’s pay centre in Miramichi, N.B., to be processed through the new Phoenix payroll system.
‘I’m hurt because I think after all the years I put in as a government employee, I shouldn’t be having this treatment.’ – Kathryn McCalder, retiree
Now she is desperately trying to get the lump sum she was promised in writing. She said she was owed $42,652 in severance pay, $51,750 for transition support during workforce adjustment, and $23,535 in vacation pay. After receiving a small amount of the money owed to her, she says, over $100,000 is still outstanding.
“I’m hurt because I think after all the years I put in as a government employee, I shouldn’t be having this treatment,” said McCalder. “It’s just causing me unease right now. That’s a huge chunk of money to be forgotten about.”
Hundreds of jobs cut as government consolidated offices
The government consolidated offices, cutting hundreds of compensation adviser jobs during the transition to the Phoenix system that launched at the start of this year.
There used to be about 2,700 compensation advisers serving 300,000 employees. There are now 442 compensation advisers at the Miramichi Pay Centre.
The government says more than 80,000 public servants have been affected in some way by Phoenix issues, including getting overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all.
McCalder said she is losing sleep trying to get her full benefits.
“I feel like with over 80,000 people in the lineup — some of them not even getting a salary — and they’re still working,” said McCalder. “My case will be forgotten.”
Laid off compensation officers turning down offers to re-hire them
Some compensation experts are now turning down offers to help the federal government work through the massive backlog of cases created by the Phoenix system’s problems.
The government confirms it’s trying to rehire a number of pay advisers and compensation specialists to work at a newly created, temporary pay unit in Gatineau, Que., to help with the backlog.
One former compensation adviser said she was approached by the general manager and asked to spend three or four months helping out with Phoenix. She said no way.
‘I don’t want to work with Phoenix. It would break my heart to see so many people not getting paid.’ – Former government compensation adviser
“I don’t want to work with Phoenix,” said the worker, who CBC News isn’t naming because of her fears she will lose her new job for speaking out.
“It would break my heart to see so many people not getting paid. I would work crazy hours. I have to think of my health too. The way they let us go at the end was very ruthless. All of us suffered from that. I just can’t do it.”
She said compensation advisers warned the government about issues with the Phoenix system early on, including that it wasn’t customized enough to deal with the government’s complex rules and exemptions.
More positions added to help backlog
The government recently added 40 additional staff to its Miramichi Pay Centre, for a total of 590 workers.
Seventy-two of them are on various forms of leave, according to Public Services and Procurement Canada, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada — the largest union representing public servants — believes more than 50 of the 72 cases are long-term leave due to stress.
During a news conference earlier this week, Public Service Minister Judy Foote put the number of people on sick leave at 28, and called it a “serious issue.”
Another 56 employees were recently hired at the temporary pay office in Gatineau, Que., with 33 more coming in the new few weeks, said the department.
“We plan to hire as many people as necessary in the unit to accelerate the processing of cases. The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat has reached an agreement in principle with the Public Service Alliance of Canada to rehire a number of pay-advisers/compensation specialists in support of the Temporary Pay Unit,” said Public Services and Procurement Canada in a statement to CBC News.
McCalder won’t go back to help
McCalder received an email asking if she and other retired compensation advisors would help with the backlog. But she said she won’t help the government clean up the mess.
“I don’t want to get wrapped up in this mess for a long while,” said McCalder. “I think that something needs to be done to correct the system.”
Her idea is to keep cases of people being paid normally in the Phoenix system, and to use the old system to resolve problem cases. Then, when the issues with Phoenix are fixed, the problem cases can be transferred back to it.
“My best wishes to all the people who are doing pay in Phoenix,” said McCalder. “I hope one day you get the satisfaction I did when I was able to help out people.”
Members of Parliament are in Ottawa on Thursday for an emergency meeting about the Phoenix payroll problems.
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