Four years ago, after a long round of bargaining and an implementation period that was plagued by problems with Phoenix, some of UCTE’s members in the inspectorate at Transport Canada noticed discrepancies on their pay stubs. A fundamental change had taken place in the way some TI members were paid; the Terminable Allowance (TA) was rolled into base salary for certain groups. However, the employer failed to execute this change effectively in the pay system, which resulted in a TA overpayment for several months.
This unfortunate circumstance was further complicated by a corresponding error, which assigned members to the incorrect pay tier. This is a situation that no one wants to find themselves in. Coincidentally, the underpaid salary and the overpaid TA were similar amounts, so UCTE members were patiently being underpaid while the employer sorted out the mess in the pay system.
Underpaid salary + overpaid TA ≠ correct pay
Unfortunately, their patience was not rewarded. In December 2017, the employer rightfully stopped paying the TA. However, it did not correct the pay tier error, which hastened the rate of underpayment experienced by this group.
Also in December 2017, TC sent notification of the TA overpayment to the affected members. They advised members that their paystubs would be altered to make it appear that the overpaid TA was not income for tax purposes and that a recovery of the TA overpayment would be initiated. Other than a net zero supplementary paystub, the employer was not transparent about how this overpayment was calculated.
As a result of this inciting event, UCTE representatives supported our members in filing many grievances; dozens of enquiries were sent to Pay and Compensation, many of which went unanswered. Despite complete and thorough grievance presentations, the employer’s responses were silent on some of the key issues raised. The lack of a complete response has provided no closure to this difficult situation.
Transport Canada has repeatedly ignored the big picture. Choosing to focus on recoverable funds, taking money out of the pockets of our members, without providing proof or paying heed to the funds that are owed. Despite being raised at local and regional levels, this situation is ongoing and remains unresolved to this day.
UCTE Representatives have met with the employer many times since the issue of TA overpayment was recognized. Recently, in February 2021, the Union recommended that the employer forgive the overpayment, given the length of time and lack of accountability. Conversely, TC proposed recovering the overpayment from the upcoming retroactive payments resulting from implementation of the Collective Agreement and Phoenix damages payments. UCTE said no; members have a right to those payments, free of recoveries.
UCTE pushed for another meeting with the employer in May 2021 and reiterated its stance on the outstanding issues:
- Communication has been insufficient. Members are not receiving responses from the Pay and Compensation dedicated email address (other than an autoreply) and phone messages are not being returned. UCTE suggested dedicating an additional staff person to deal with these enquiries and improve accountability.
- Lack of confidence in pay system. Paystubs do not provide enough information for members to do their own reconciliation. UCTE was adamant that if members request an audit, they should receive it.
- Repayment options. If the audit proves that there are monies owed to the Crown, the Union was firm in that members need to be given options for how they can pay back the overpayment:
- Pay the balance in one payment
- Recover 10% per pay
- Negotiate another rate of repayment in the event of hardship
What you can do
UCTE has not been silent on this issue. Your representatives have been voicing your concerns and consulting on options for the last four years. While the employer has been avoiding dealing with the issue.
TC was confident that all calls and emails were being returned from the dedicated email address. From our members’ experience, this is not happening in practice. The employer also assured that reconciliation reports would be provided in a timely manner, with personnel available to help explain. Transport Canada was unable to provide a definition of “timely manner”. Members should continue to send in enquiries and keep a record of these attempts to communicate.
Members still have the right to grieve. Each grievance needs to be tailored to the individual pay circumstances, as each pay file is unique and will require unique corrective action. As well, it is within a member’s right to request that their grievance be transmitted to the next level, if they are not in agreement with the employer’s response.
UCTE has asked the employer to freeze recovery until all grievances have been resolved. If an outstanding balance is realized after members have verified the audit, UCTE believes that only the net amount should be recovered. Recovering the gross amount that was subject to taxes and deductions would be asking members to return money they never had in their possession.
At a meeting on May 18, 2021, the Deputy Minister stated that It would be a big mistake to stop the recovery of the overpayment at this time.
A small win for member’s rights
As a result of these discussions, Transport Canada has only agreed to provide a communiqué to members to clarify the process to request and review a reconciliation report of their pay. It will also include the information required to submit a hardship claim and means of requesting alternate recovery options.
UCTE will continue to press the employer for transparency and to respect member’s rights to be paid correctly.