Manitoba

Ottawa to create satellite office in Winnipeg to deal with Phoenix fallout

As many as 50 people will be hired for a temporary satellite location in Winnipeg to help speed up compensation to federal employees frustrated by a multimillion-dollar payroll computer-system debacle that’s left workers with partial or no compensation.

Many compensation advisors predicted problems with Phoenix, says retired public servant

Winnipeg is one of four Canadian cities set to open special offices to help handle calls related to Phoenix payroll glitches affecting federal government employees. (Facebook)

As many as 50 people will be hired for a temporary satellite location in Winnipeg to help speed up compensation to federal employees frustrated by a multimillion-dollar payroll computer-system debacle that's left workers with partial or no compensation.

Winnipeg is one of four Canadian cities — the others are Montreal, Gatineau, Que., and Shawinigan, Que. — to become temporary compensation hubs to deal with the slew of phone calls coming in from government workers to address payroll issues caused by the new Phoenix system.

A Toronto call centre will decide how to direct calls.

At the start of this year, the federal government consolidated offices, cutting hundreds of compensation adviser jobs during the transition to the new Phoenix payroll system.

Before then, about 2,700 compensation advisers served 300,000 public servants. Now, only 442 advisers work out of a single pay centre in Miramichi, N.B.

A Winnipeg-based retired compensation advisor said problems with Phoenix were predicted long before the system rolled out. CBC is calling the retiree John — not his real name — because he is concerned a Pay Centre agent he dealt with may face repercussions if he speaks out.

In an ironic twist, John, who was an expert in federal service compensation, waited months before finally receiving pay after retiring in March. He continues to wait for a $5,900 cheque that was supposed to be deposited directly into his RRSP.

"Nobody knows where it is," said John. A call to the Pay Centre help line informed John he'd have to wait weeks to find out where the cheque is.

John, who spent a career processing retirement applications and other compensation-related issues, said he could not have completed his paperwork more thoroughly before leaving work.

"All they had to do was press a couple buttons," John said.

But once his file was processed by Phoenix everything went haywire, he said.

"The people in charge of Public Works, somebody should be held accountable [for Phoenix]," he said.

"I think somebody should be fired."

More than a quarter — or 80,000 — of public servants have been affected by the Phoenix payroll fiasco in some way, including getting overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all.

The cost of dealing with the issues is expected to cost $15 million to $20 million.

John said much of those costs could have been avoided if Phoenix had been rolled out slowly and in increments across the country.

"It can't handle the complexity of compensation," he said.

"If there had been a transition over two to three years nobody would even have known."

The temporary Winnipeg satellite office plans to hire up to 50 workers, a quarter of the approximately 200 compensation advisers to be hired for the four offices across the country. There will be 100 people working out of the Toronto triage call centre.

John said if the federal government comes knocking to see if he would return to help at the Winnipeg office he'd have a hard time saying yes.

He said he'd only go back if he was serving his former clients.

"I might because I did care about my clients … I worked at DND [Department of National Defence]. If it was for them, yes," he said.

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