News in Brief

Unions seek court action over federal payroll system
› OTTAWA — Unions representing federal public sector workers are asking a court to order the federal government to implement a payroll administration system that enables it to pay its employees accurately and on time.
The unions, including the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), say the government’s new payroll system, called Phoenix, is not working and its dysfunction is a breach of the government’s duty as an employer to provide timely and accurate pay for its employees.
In an application to the Federal Court, the unions say problems with the system have resulted in the government failing to pay some employees their regular earnings, overtime pay and extra duty pay, as well as the government not processing information needed for disability insurance, employment insurance and pension payments. 
“Since its implementation, Phoenix has exhibited ongoing and significant systemic problems in the administration of pay for public service employees,” says PSAC.
Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) has acknowledged there are problems and said, “While many of the issues raised have been addressed, more needs to be done, and the remaining issues are not being addressed as quickly as we would like.”
To help get through a backlog of pay problems, the department says it has created a temporary pay unit. “Over the next few months, we expect this unit will resolve many long-standing, frustrating pay issues.”
The government says it will also provide salary advances, if requested, for employees facing financial difficulties because of the backlog. In addition, it is asking employees to continue to report all pay problems they experience. 
The Phoenix pay system is replacing the government’s previous payroll system, which PWGSC says is more than 40 years old and too difficult to maintain. The change is part of an overhaul of federal payroll services that began in 2009. 
It also includes the consolidation of payroll services for federal departments, agencies and Crown corporations at a new pay centre in Miramichi, N.B.

WorkSafeBC studying payroll policy changes
› vancouver — WorkSafeBC, the province’s workers’ compensation body, is asking for feedback on proposed changes to some of its assessable payroll policies.
The changes would affect policy AP1-38-2, Payroll—Categories, and AP1-38-3, Payroll—Principles for Determining. The proposed changes include:
Combining the two policies, with the new policy called AP1-38-2, Assessable Payroll.
Adding a statement that explains that assessable payroll is the total earnings paid to individuals and firms for work they do, with the exception of excess earnings and earnings paid to unaffiliated independent firms. The board says the statement would help employers understand the general principle it uses when determining which payments are assessable.
Changing the categories used in the policy for determining assessable earnings. The heading “Wages and salaries” would become “Standard Employment Earnings.” Sub-headings would be added to make it easier to find information. The heading “Personal Optional Protection (POP)” would be deleted since POP assessments are not part of assessable payroll.
Adding definitions for the terms “affiliated firms”, “excess earnings” and “principal”.
Adding general rules for allowances and reimbursements.
Reorganizing the placement of a number of assessment rules (e.g., severance or termination pay, self-funded leaves of absence, etc.,) to make the policy more understandable.
Changing the policy for assessing payments companies make for services to non-registered management companies under common ownership.
WorkSafeBC is accepting comments on the proposed changes until Sept. 30. 
Service Canada discontinuing some ROE Web formats as of Aug. 31
› ottawa —Service Canada will discontinue several ROE Web formats at the end of August in an effort to standardize its ROE Web file versions. 
As of Aug. 31, Service Canada will no longer accept the 27-week flat file, the 53-week flat file, the 53-week XML file version 1.0 and the 27-week online form. It had originally set Mar. 31 as the deadline for switching away from these formats, but extended the date to the end of August. 
As of Sept. 1, Service Canada will only accept and support the 53-week XML payroll extract file version 2.0 and the 53-week online form for the ROE Web.

Retirement benefits would motivate many to change jobs: survey
› TORONTO — More than three-quarters of Canadian workers surveyed say they would consider switching jobs for better retirement benefits, a new survey shows.
The survey of 862 employed Canadians by ADP Canada found that 77 per cent of respondents would think about an employment change if, all other things being equal, another employer offered retirement support. 
About 86 per cent of employees in medium-size companies (51 to 500 employees) said they would consider changing jobs for better retirement support, compared to 70 per cent of workers in small businesses and 74 per cent of employees in large organizations.
“We were surprised to see the difference in willingness to change jobs among employees in mid-sized companies, versus smaller organizations,” says Sooky Lee, division vice-president and general manager, HR business process outsourcing at ADP Canada.
“This could be that employees in larger organizations expect their employers to have more robust programs around retirement.”

Little change in average weekly earnings in April: StatsCan
› OTTAWA — Average weekly earnings of non-farm payroll employees were $956 in April, little changed from $958 in March, Statistics Canada reports. Statistics Canada revised the March numbers from the previously reported $960. 
On a year-over-year basis, weekly earnings increased 0.2 per cent in April. The increase in weekly earnings during the 12 months to April reflected a number of factors, including wage growth, changes in the composition of employment by industry, occupation and level of job experience, as well as average hours worked per week. 
Non-farm payroll employees worked an average of 32.9 hours a week in April, unchanged from the hours reported for March.  

Unemployment rate drops to 6.8 per cent in June: StatsCan
› OTTAWA — The number of people working in Canada barely changed from May to June, but the country’s unemployment rate dropped from 6.9 to 6.8 per cent, Statistics Canada reports.Overall, Canada lost about 700 jobs in June, however, due to fewer people looking for work, the unemployment rate went down. 
On a provincial basis, the agency says there was little change, with only British Columbia having employment growth, with its unemployment rate dropping from 6.1 per cent to 5.9 per cent. Newfoundland and Labrador continued to have the highest unemployment rate at 12 per cent, up from 11.7 per cent in May. 
In the United States, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the American economy added 287,000 jobs in June, but the unemployment rate rose to 4.9 per cent.

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