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Phoenix pay system leaves N.S. worker struggling to pay bills

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Phoenix pay system leaves N.S. worker struggling to pay bills

As Christmas nears, stress is building and unpaid bills are piling up for Brian Wilson, a corrections worker in Truro, N.S.

He hasn't been paid in a month. 

Wilson works at the Nova Institution for Women and is paid through the federal government's Phoenix pay system. He blames the problem-plagued system for his lack of a paycheque. 

"It's only gotten worse in the year and a half or two years it's been in there. It's just snowballing," Wilson told the CBC's Maritime Noon. 

Canada's auditor general said the pay system has left more than 150,000 government workers either underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all.

Wilson's paydays started disappearing after he opened a new bank account a little more than a month ago. He asked for his pay to be deposited in the new account. Wilson kept his old account open just in case there was a mix-up. 

'Constant worry, stress'

When payday came, the money wasn't deposited in either account. Wilson called his bank and the centre that handles his pay, but no one could find his money. After a month of calling, he still didn't have any answers — or his pay. 

"I have no ambition to go to work tomorrow — although I still do, I still go and I do overtime in the hopes that someday I see a paycheque. But each day it's more frustrating. It's very draining, tiring — you know, the constant worry, stress."     

 

The federal department of Public Services and Procurement oversees the system that pays public servants. A spokesperson for the department told CBC News that due to privacy concerns, department staff cannot talk about individual cases.

But the spokesperson did say workers can request an emergency salary advance if they haven't been paid.

'No farther ahead'

Wilson said he will take an advance if he has to, but is putting it off because of the problems he's heard others have had with it.

Often people will get a portion of their pay through the pay advance program only to have it clawed back a few weeks later, said Wilson, "so you're no farther ahead."

While he waits, Wilson falls further behind.

He's reached out to his bank, credit card company and loan providers to explain the situation and get some relief from his bills, but they didn't care. Even though the people he talks to know he has a job and know about the problems with the Phoenix pay system, he said it doesn't matter — they still want their money without delay.

The minister of Public Services and Procurement, Carla Qualtrough, said in previous interviews with CBC News that the government has hired about 290 new people to help workers with payroll transactions and questions, and another 300 are set to be hired in January. 

'Is this really worth it?'

The government is also working to build better systems of communication so staff in the pay system can better help workers navigate it.

But all of this could come too late for workers like Wilson.

"You're just wondering, 'Is this really worth it?' You know you're supposed to have a good federal government job and now you're crossing your fingers every payday hoping you're going to get a cheque.

"I've had a lot of jobs. Even though some of them didn't pay that well, at least they paid. I could count on a paycheque every week," said Wilson.