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Government says it's working to resolve massive union dues shortfall

Last Updated Apr 21, 2017 at 1:00 pm PST

OTTAWA – The federal government says it’s trying to figure out how much its troubled electronic pay system has shortchanged the unions representing thousands of civil servants facing unforeseen pay issues.

But officials aren’t saying whether the unions will be granted emergency payments like those being offered to workers who’ve been improperly paid through the Phoenix pay system.

For the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), it’s become an “extreme” problem, says the union’s national president, Debi Daviau.

The union, which represents more than 50,000 federal workers including accountants, engineers and scientists, said it’s owed nearly $2 million in unpaid dues from its members that have been collected by the government but not handed over, or not collected at all.

While its focus has been on ensuring its members are paid properly, the cash shortfall is creating serious difficulties as it tries to help individual civil servants sort through their pay issues, said Daviau.

“Our focus remains making sure our members get paid,” she said.

“(But) there’s been an extreme draw on our resources (and) the lack of incoming dues to support all of these resources is starting to become a problem.”

PIPSC representatives met government officials in February and requested short-term financial help as the dues shortfall was being tallied. But the problem has grown since, said Daviau.

“Delays in processing certain pay transactions have resulted in delayed remittances to the unions,” Public Service and Procurement Canada acknowledged in an email message.

“We continue to work closely to address union dues issues and requests that funds be advanced,” a Treasury Board official said in a separate email.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which speaks on behalf of more than 180,000 government workers — the vast majority of them at the federal level — wouldn’t reveal publicly how much it’s owed, saying it’ll sort through the dues mess once it’s satisfied the government has fixed the Phoenix pay system for good.

“In some cases, union dues have been impacted by the Phoenix pay issues, but we are more focused right now on our members getting paid properly because of the Phoenix debacle,” said PSAC national president Robyn Benson.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, who temporarily took on responsibility for the Phoenix file earlier this month after Judy Foote took leave as public services minister for personal and family reasons, said Friday he is coming to grips with the pay issues after meeting PSAC leaders this week.

“I understand their arguments and I understand the position that many people find themselves in,” Carr said.

“The government of Canada is working diligently to ensure that we are on a path that is going to lead to a better result.”

The Canadian Association of Professional Employees, the third largest federal civil service union with about 14,000 members, said its operations were not being affected by the shortfall.

Other, smaller unions said their operations were not greatly affected by the dues shortfall, but added they were unable to determine the extent of the problem because they lacked accurate information from the government.

“We’re just trying to figure out . . . why we’re getting less union dues,” said Jason Godin, national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

“Our pay case files are so complicated and this is another one of those examples of problems with Phoenix.”

The auditor general is reviewing how the pay system was implemented and why some government employees have been underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all.

The Phoenix system has caused financial turmoil for up to 82,000 federal civil servants since it was launched more than a year ago. In some cases, government employees went without pay for months.

The government has offered emergency salary advances for those employees finding themselves in dire financial circumstances as a result of the pay errors. However, some civil servants have not taken up the offer, citing concerns the money would be clawed back.

In their April 5 update on rectifying the pay issues, government officials said they were making progress on a backlog of unresolved cases, particularly for employees on parental leave.

However, disability pay requests were still being handled too slowly and the number of pay transactions that were still awaiting processing for more than 20 days remained virtually unchanged since early March at about 284,000, officials said.

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