Working as a prison guard at a maximum security penitentiary can be a stressful job.
Having a wife with mental health issues and children with learning difficulties can also be stressful.
And being away from that wife and kids is no picnic either.
So imagine on top of all that not getting your paycheque thanks to the federal government’s Phoenix payroll fiasco.
“It was payday and I got nothing at all,” Holloway told the Times last week.
Three paycheques ago the Kent Institution guard received about one quarter of what he should have received. Then on Sept. 7 he received $128, essentially none of his regular pay, just the shift differential he receives for working evenings and weekends.
Then Sept. 21 it was nothing at all.
“Like a lot of people we live paycheque to paycheque and I support six people with one income,” he said. “My credit card is at the max, maybe Monday I might get an advance . . . I can’t even pay for the kids medical issues.”
By Monday he did get emergency pay through the prison, but it’s not the full amount of his paycheque and the delays make day-to-day living challenging.
Holloway is living downtown Chilliwack right now in a small one-bedroom apartment. His wife and kids are back in Grande Cache, Alta., where he worked prior to his transfer to Kent three months ago.
The Phoenix computerized pay system, commissioned by the previous Conservative government, was implemented in February by the Liberal government. It involved replacing some 2,700 payroll specialists across the country with the automated system, run by 500 people in Miramichi, N.B.
Since then, more than 80,000 federal employees, from MPs to office workers, have complained of not being paid what they’re owed—most commonly not receiving enough in benefits, overtime or pay differentials for temporary promotions. In the worst cases, some people have not been paid at all.
Holloway works as an armed guard at Kent, a maximum-security prison in Agassiz that houses some of Canada’s most hardened criminals, including serial killer Robert Pickton.
“When officers are doing their rounds in the actual living units, when the inmates are out, I’m up on the gun walk with a C8 rifle watching them,” Holloway said.
On other days, Holloway could be one of the guards among the prisoners.
“You’re dealing with guys that wouldn’t even bat an eye to hurt you, or stab you, or shank you . . . you don’t need distractions.”
Derek Chin, the Pacific region president of the Union of Canadian Corrections Officers, said the new payroll system first came to corrections in February as a pilot project at seven institutions across Canada, including B.C.’s medium-security Mission Institution. Pay stubs were plagued with irregularities.
“In Mission they only had about 200 officers,” Chin said, adding that despite the problems the system was expanded in May to cover all of the federal government’s corrections facilities, including the nine B.C. federal institutions and their 1,200 staff.
“The pilot project wasn’t nearly as bad as when they started rolling it out,” Chin said. “It’s just a mess all around.”
The union is currently involved in 40 cases in B.C. that are similar to Holloway’s. Seven of those cases are among Kent’s 300 officers.
Chin said the guards are stuck in the same backlog facing thousands of other public servants.
“We don’t really know what the other federal departments are doing. We don’t really know where we are in the queue,” Chin said, arguing that the guards are a special case.
In the summer, the ministry of Public Services and Procurement Canada set Oct. 31 as its deadline to eliminate the backlog. But that was before Holloway’s paycheque mistakes so he figures he might be last in line for a fix.
“A lot of officers go through PTSD, a lot of dangerous situations. The only gratifying thing is pretty much your paycheque. It’s a thankless job we have . . . all we want to do is get paid.”
Chin said Holloway’s specific problem likely arose through his transfer from Alberta to B.C.
“Somewhere in Miramichi, his file got lost,” Chin said.
– with files from Postmedia