New approach whittling down Phoenix backlog, government says

A federal government pilot project aimed at helping public servants solve their Phoenix pay problems appears to be yielding results, and could finally help reduce the huge backlog of cases.

Devoting pay advisers to specific departments showing promising results

Minister of Public Services and Procurement Carla Qualtrough said a pilot project that performed well in addressing Phoenix issues within three departments will be expanded across the entire public service. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A federal government pilot project aimed at helping public servants solve their Phoenix pay problems appears to be yielding results, and could finally help reduce the huge backlog of cases.

Both the backlog and the number of employees experiencing pay issues dropped across three departments where the new approach, described as a "pod model" that pairs advisers from the government's pay centre with specific bureaus, is being tested.

They're giving individual attention. They're working through each client's account.- Robyn Benson, PSAC

The three participating departments are Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Veterans Affairs Canada and the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Over three months, 25 advisers worked exclusively with 10,000 employees in those departments. During that time the number of backlogged cases dropped by 15 per cent, and the number of employees experiencing pay issues dropped by seven per cent, according to numbers provided by Public Services and Procurement Canada, the federal department overseeing Phoenix.

Building expertise

On March 21 Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough said that based on the pilot project, her department would apply the same approach to the entire public service.

"It is a team of compensation advisers, administrative assistants and others who are dedicated to a specific department or departments and agencies," Qualthrough told the Senate finance committee.

She said the approach was helping forge relationships between the pay advisers and human resources staff, and building internal expertise about the kinds of problems that tend to crop up within particular departments.

"If it's the Coast Guard you can imagine there are different transactions than if it is Elections Canada," she said. 

The government has devoted $16 million to finding a replacement for the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system.

No easy fix

Qualtrough said under the new approach, advisers attempt to solve an employee's numerous pay problems all at once, rather than dealing with the issues one at a time.

"It wasn't treating people as a whole," she said. 

Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said the union has been advocating for such a change, and is glad to see it showing results.

"They will do the whole account, and so of course that will decrease the number of problems, because everything will be fixed," she said. "They're giving individual attention. They're working through each client's account."

Benson said the government will have to hire more pay advisers, because Phoenix won't be either fixed or replaced any time soon.

"It's not an easy fix, in that a system can not just be brought over tomorrow."

The government put aside $16 million in this year's budget to begin the work of finding a new pay system.


Ryan Tumilty


Ryan is an experienced journalist who was the managing editor of Metro Ottawa before coming to CBC. He has reported for over a decade in communities across Canada. Story tips should go to