Over 80,000 federal employees, including many U of O students, have had their pay affected because of the Phoenix payroll system. Photo: CC, Michael Kooiman.
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U of O financial department assists students affected by Phoenix problems

Since its implementation earlier this year, the federal government’s new computerized Phoenix payroll system, designed to simplify the payment process, has compromised the regular pay of more than 80,000 federal government employees, many of whom are students.

The majority of those affected by the change are being underpaid or, in some cases, not paid at all for their work. The problem comes at an inconvenient time for many, as back-to-school goes hand in hand with tuition payments, book costs, and more.

Carolyn Mutis, a fourth-year English student at the U of O, is working in a co-op role with the government this term, and spoke with the Fulcrum about her reaction to the issues around the Phoenix system.

“It’s a little worrisome going into a co-op term with the government when so many Phoenix horror stories are going around, but I’m just hoping for the best and staying prepared for any potential problems.”

Students have also reported that government officials have neglected to answer questions about when the system will be fixed, and when payments would be mailed out.

One University of British Columbia student told the CBC that she had called the government help centre 177 times before she was given an explanation about why she had not been paid, but was not given any indication of when the system would be fixed.

Of the 80,000 workers affected by the Phoenix system, students have been hit particularly hard because they are short-term workers and are, in some cases, underrepresented.

“A lot of students live pay cheque to pay cheque, and for that reason they could be hit harder than others by problems in receiving their pay,” said Mutis.

Short-term workers are not part of the many union options public workers often rely on, such as the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which includes more than 50 per cent of the total 300,000 federal workers in Canada.

As a result, students may have to find other ways to finance their education outside of the help of unions.

According to the federal government, workers who notified their employers concerning their pay issues before June 1 can expect a resolution by October.

According to a representative from the U of O’s Student Accounts Office, in the interim period they have been working to make accommodations for these federally employed students until they are paid.

When paying tuition, students are able to present the Student Accounts Office with a letter from their employer so that case-by-case accommodations can be made.

Until the Phoenix payroll system is functioning properly again, the university is continuing to ensure that students are accommodated during this period.

Marie Lemay, the deputy minister responsible for public services and procurement, spoke at a press conference at the end of August about the costs to fix the system, saying, “The last number we have is 25 (million dollars) but it will be higher.”

As for when the system will be working as intended, an official statement on the federal government website said, “We have a lot of work to do to get the pay system moving as intended and we will do what is necessary to get it done.”

Carolyn Mutis serves as treasurer on the Fulcrum Publishing Society’s Board of Directors.