Education

Flawed Phoenix pay system shortchanges, frustrates students

'It’s annoying ... I don’t know if I’m ever going to get (the unpaid wages) at this point'

Some students are still waiting to be paid for summer jobs, despite the federal government's promise to fix its troubled Phoenix pay system by tomorrow.
Some students are still waiting to be paid for summer jobs, despite the federal government’s promise to fix its troubled Phoenix pay system by tomorrow.   Jessica Caparini

Ceilidh Bray thinks she was paid properly for her summer job, but she can’t be sure.

The third-year Dalhousie University student worked as a lifeguard at Kejimkujik National Park over the summer, a job that put her into the federal government’s flawed Phoenix Pay System. As a result, she received no pay stubs for her work.

It’s “excruciatingly annoying, as I’m a full-time student, I have another part-time job and I juggle a social life,” says Bray.

“I’d rather not have to worry about something that the government promised me in my contract.”

Federal government employees were forced to make a rocky transition to the Phoenix system earlier this year. Some 80,000 public servants reported problems with their pay.

The government’s self-imposed deadline for fixing pay issues is Monday, but two weeks ago it reported there were still more than 30,000 cases to sort through.

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University of Alberta student Keziah Lesko-Gosselin is one of these cases. She’s missing around $800 from her summer work with the Department of National Defence. Although several of her co-workers’ pay problems were resolved in early September, hers was not.

“It’s annoying … that could cover four months of groceries. It’s a big deal as a student,” says Lesko-Gosselin. “It’s giving me a bit of anxiety too because I don’t know if I’m ever going to get it at this point.”

Like Bray, she hasn’t received any pay stubs, despite requesting them in early September. Many of her inquiries have been ignored or she has been asked to repeat information she already submitted. She can’t be sure how much the government actually owes her.

“They’re not doing anything,” she says.

Through its Federal Student Work Experience Program, the government hired about 9,000 students this year for casual and summer work. Because they were new hires, students were disproportionately affected by pay issues.

Many were overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all. As well, those who worked seasonal positions can’t access the online Phoenix system because it’s only available on the Government of Canada’s network.

In August, Carleton University and the University of Ottawa asked students who had been affected by the flawed pay system to contact them. The universities said they would work with students on a case-by-case basis to assist them until they received their payments.

In Halifax, no university appears to have extended this offer. Staff at the University of King’s College didn’t discuss the issue before classes began, says Catherine Read, who works in the registrar’s office.

Representatives of King’s, Mount Saint Vincent University, Dalhousie University and Saint Mary’s University say that no students have come forward with problems due to the Phoenix system.

If King’s students are waiting to be paid for summer work, they can apply for an emergency loan or for a bursary. The application process “is pretty straightforward,” says Read. “We try to accommodate people as best we can.”