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Backlog of problems with federal Phoenix pay system bigger than ever: union

February 27, 2024
The Canadian Press

Three unions are calling on the government to provide additional compensation to federal public servants as they struggle with the Phoenix pay system and its litany of chronic problems. PSAC National President Chris Aylward looks on during a news conference in Ottawa, on Saturday, April 22, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Three unions are calling on the government to provide additional compensation to federal public servants as they struggle with the Phoenix pay system and its litany of chronic problems.

“This week marks the eighth anniversary of Phoenix,” said Chris Aylward, the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

“Unfortunately, eight years into the pay fiasco, there is nothing to celebrate — no light at the end of the tunnel.”

Since its launch in 2016, the number of unresolved problems has piled up to 444,000. They’ve “never seen this many cases in the backlog,” Aylward told a news conference Tuesday on Parliament Hill.


The standard waiting period for payroll problems to be addressed is usually two years, federal public service unions said in a news release.

The group, which also includes the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, wants earlier agreements extended to compensate public servants for damages.

“The pay problems haven’t stopped,” Aylward said in an interview. “Every single pay week, we still have pay problems, and we’re years out from getting a new pay system.”

Aylward said his union negotiated an earlier agreement that gave members a $2,500 settlement for problems that happened between 2016 and 2020.

“Basically, we’re saying it’s time for us to negotiate another set of damages for the last four years.”

Public servants are having much the same problems they did in earlier years, Aylward said: “Not a whole lot has changed.”

While there aren’t many cases of people who aren’t getting paid at all, PSAC members are still being overpaid or underpaid, and it takes two years for someone’s pay file to catch up if they move departments or agencies, he said.

“(For) somebody that’s contemplating retirement, that can be a real nightmare, not knowing whether my pension is going to be correct or not because of the pay issues,” he said. “There’s a lot of anxiety out there for sure.”

The Phoenix system is “still a mess,” he said.

“When the federal government can’t pay its own employees properly and on time, there has to be consequences for that.”

Treasury Board President Anita Anand said she’ll continue to work and meet with the union to develop solutions, and that she believes public service workers deserve to be paid as quickly and fairly as possible.

Aylward also criticized the government for focusing on claiming overpayments before the expiry of a six-year limitation period, a push that began in 2022.

Employers began asking PSAC members to repay hundreds of dollars from years earlier — but without being able to explain why the overpayment occurred or even what paycheque it was on.

“Yet they expect our members just to sign on the dotted line to say, ‘Yes, I owe you this money,'” Aylward said. The government needs to hire more compensation advisers with proper training, he added.

It’s proven a challenge to recruit and retain advisers who are “trying to work with a broken system,” and the government needs to make more of an effort, he said.

Phoenix was introduced in 2016, and was supposed to consolidate dozens of separate and antiquated pay systems. The idea was it would save the government millions annually, but instead resulted in massive upheaval.

Jennifer Carr, the president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, suggested the system be overhauled altogether.

“Any future pay system must prioritize accuracy, transparency and accountability,” she said. “We cannot afford a repeat of the mistakes of Phoenix.”

Anand said a new payment system would have to “actually” work as soon as it’s implemented, “because we cannot have another system like the Phoenix pay system.”

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