A trio of local NDP candidates gathered at the Tunney’s Pasture government complex Tuesday morning to highlight their plan, if elected, to remedy the problems caused by the Phoenix pay system.
“This would not be tolerated in the private sector, and it’s not good enough to just keep saying that we’re working on it,” said Ottawa Centre NDP candidate Emilie Taman.
While the New Democrats’ end goal is replacing Phoenix with a new, functional pay system, the candidates stressed the need to first clear the backlog of outstanding pay issues.
“I’ve talked to people that without warning — they’ve not changed jobs, they’ve not done anything, and their paycheques are suddenly 500 dollars less,” said Angella MacEwen, the NDP candidate in Ottawa West–Nepean. “They’re on a list to call the call centre in Miramichi and they’re waiting and they don’t know when the problems are going to get resolved. So this causes a huge amount of stress in people’s lives.”
According to the federal government’s website, the backlog of financial transactions at the public service pay centre was 228,000 as of Aug. 21 — down from a peak of 384,000 in January 2018. Still, it was estimated in August that more than half of public servants were experiencing some form of pay issue.
The NDP wants to bring compensation advisors into the departments where people with pay issues are working, Taman said, and allow for face-to-face problem solving.
“Employees can sit down and have their pay essentially audited, and if they need to have their compensation written on a manual cheque, then that should be what’s happening.”
The New Democratic platform also promises “fair compensation” for workers impacted by Phoenix.
While other federal public service unions and the government have reached a settlement on Phoenix damages, the Public Service Alliance of Canada rejected the remedy on offer: up to five days of leave, and the potential for additional compensation on a case-by-case basis. PSAC, the largest federal public service union, wants a cash settlement it deems sufficient for its members.
Morgan Gay, the NDP candidate in Ottawa South and a negotiator with PSAC, said he supports “110 per cent” what the union is asked for on Phoenix damages.
“People have lost their homes. People have had to ask for bankruptcy, and they’re getting nickel-and-dimed by the government,” he said.
What are the other parties promising around Phoenix?
The Liberal platform pledges “Entirely eliminating the backlog of outstanding pay issues for public servants as a result of the Phoenix pay system.” It doesn’t mention anything about the system itself, but the party confirmed in a statement that if re-elected, the Liberals would move forward with a new pay system.
Days before the campaign period began, the Liberal government announced a $117-million investment in its process to procure a Phoenix replacement. It’s already named three qualified vendors who can work with the government to design and test pilot versions of a new HR and pay system.
The Green platform doesn’t make any reference to the Phoenix pay system or public service pay problems. The same goes for the People’s Party.
The Conservatives have yet to release their full platform, and questions about what, if anything, the party will promise around Phoenix and the public service hadn’t received a response by Monday afternoon.
What else do party platforms say about the federal public service?
The Liberals are campaigning on a pledge to speed up the public service hiring process, with a goal of reducing the average time it takes to hire a new bureaucrat from 10 to five months. They’re also promising improvements to project management by ensuring all major projects are led by a “certified professional” with five or more years of experience.
The Grits say they will improve diversity in promotions to senior public service positions, and in appointments to federal agencies and bodies. And they promise action “to reduce the number of significant deficiencies” identified by the auditor general in follow-up audits of programs or departments.
The New Democrats are pledging to “ take action to put an end to harassment in the federal workplace” and reduce the contracting-out of government work. The party promises to review “ the existing employment equity regime to help close the racialized wage gap” and ensure “diverse and equitable hiring within the federal public service and federally-regulated industries.”
The NDP platform also promises renewable energy in federal buildings, and by 2025, making the federal government vehicle fleet electric and made-in-Canada where possible. And if elected, they would “strengthen the Accessibility Act to cover all federal agencies equally, with the power to make and enforce accessibility standards in a timely manner.”
The Green party platform pledges to “respect the unionized employees of the federal public service and the bargaining process by rejecting back-to-work legislation as a bargaining tool.” It also promises the full implementation of federal pay equity rules, a federal ombudsman to help “harassed and demoralized employees,” and requiring accessible and gender-neutral washrooms in all federal buildings.
The Greens would impose “strict” conflict-of-interest screening criteria for federal regulatory board and agency appointments. And they would “reaffirm the independence and integrity of the public service” and strengthen whistleblower protection.
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