Copyright © 2019 Senator Dennis Patterson.

Phoenix Pay System

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise before you today to speak about a heartbreaking story from one Nunavut resident. It is particularly distressing to me as this is a situation I would have hoped could have been easily avoided.

A young Inuk man from Iqaluit I’ll call “Mike” reached out to my office in early April to tell me of his problems with the Phoenix pay system. In three recent months, Mike received 10 payments in the amount of $400, and the rest of the paycheques were for zero dollars. That is because all his paycheques, if he got one that pay period, were missing the Isolated Post Allowance that makes up half or more of federal employees’ net pay in northern and remote locations.

Like many Canadians affected by Phoenix problems, Mike applied for emergency pay. However, pay officers in southern Canada, ignorant of the importance of the Isolated Post Allowance in the calculation of base wages, denied emergency pay to Mike, stating that the Isolated Post Allowance is not eligible for emergency pay.

Thankfully, Mike has a supportive family, and his mother was able to help support him and his young family financially. But her support was not enough. Mike borrowed against his mortgage and opened a $10,000 line of credit. He sold his truck and snowmobile in the prime hunting season. Despite his best efforts, his credit rating has been decimated and his savings depleted.

Still, he is not being paid properly, and he cannot pay his bills. Two weeks ago, after receiving yet another paycheque for $400, Mike told his superiors that his pay needed to be fixed or he would otherwise, in desperation, have to take stress leave until the pay issue was rectified. This week the problem was not rectified, so Mike is currently on stress leave.

Colleagues, this is just one of the many reports I have received from federal workers in Nunavut. Something needs to be done. We’ve seen the government spend millions of dollars trying to fix this problem. They set up a special ministerial task force and we heard recently that their solution is to spend even more. Meanwhile, hundreds of Nunavut’s federal employees are suffering just like Mike.

What happens to employees who lack a family safety net? What happens to the employees who don’t have a truck or snowmobile to sell? What if they don’t have a mortgage to borrow against?

Everything today is more expensive, and many middle—class families are living paycheque to paycheque. In the North, where food and commodities are at least two times more expensive than in southern Canada, $400 is a pittance.

I would add, honourable senators, that every story I have heard has affected Inuit. This is of particular concern as it serves as a disincentive for Inuit to join the federal service. Ensuring Inuit employment is one of the duties of the federal government under the land claims agreement in Nunavut. I have also heard of people unwilling to take a promotion because they’re afraid of not getting paid and of reprisals if they complain.

Colleagues, something must be done to ensure that stories like Mike’s are not repeated.