Government bolsters staff dealing with Phoenix ATIPs
Number of frustrated public servants seeking access to pay files continues to climb
UPDATE: After CBC News reported this story, Johanna Swanson was informed by the pay centre that the couple will be receiving monies owed on May 2nd.
The federal government has had to hire extra workers to deal with the mounting number of access to information requests from public servants desperate for information about their own pay records.
An increasing number of federal public servants frustrated by the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system are submitting formal requests under the Access to Information Act, commonly known as ATIP, in an attempt to solve their pay problems.
According to documents obtained by CBC News under the same legislation, the number of requests for employee pay files jumped from 15 in 2014-15 to 261 in 2016-17.
And the numbers keep rising
"For fiscal year 2017-18, there were 328 requests from people looking for information on pay-related files," said Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesperson Pierre-Alain Bujold in an emailed statement to CBC.
He said the department is adding more resources to deal with the influx.
"To date, PSPC has hired two additional employees, one consultant, and reassigned two full-time and one part-time employee to respond to the increasing number of pay-related privacy requests."
The largest public sector union says while it welcomes the government's attempt to address these new demands, the real answer is hiring more case workers to handle the backlog of claims from workers who have encountered pay problems.
Despite the government's "proposed investment" of $431.4 million to "stabilize" the Phoenix pay system, announced in the recent budget, the Public Service Alliance of Canada said it will continue to push for a lasting solution.
Couple filed requests
Johanna Swanson, an early resolution officer with Employment and Social Development Canada, counsels employees regulated under the Canada Labour Code who complain about not getting paid. Ironically, Swanson has been unable to get her own pay information from her own department.
The Vancouver-based federal employee said she's out thousands in retroactive pay, and has heard from co-workers that requesting her records through access to information could help.
"When my retro pay wasn't correct I didn't know how else to get it fixed," she said. "We were doing a renovation on our house and I was expecting that money."
Swanson said she also waited four-and-a-half months after her third child was born before she finally began receiving maternity leave payments.
Swanson's husband was in a similar situation, and sought a similar solution. Eric Swanson, a real estate investment analyst with Public Services and Procurement Canada — the federal department responsible for the Phoenix pay system — was equally frustrated after waiting too long for answers.
He blames what he calls the "stupidity of the system."
Like his wife, Swanson decided to file a formal access to information request to find out why he was either getting paid too much or too little.
For a $5 fee anyone can file a request for information under Canada's Access to Information Act. Departments and agencies covered by the law have 30 days to respond, but typically ask for extra time. If the information is personal in nature, like a person's own pay file, the fee is waived.
A daunting task
Johanna Swanson has now received her information, and is now in the process of trying to make sense of it.
I have nobody who I can talk to, nobody I can email.- Johanna Swanson
That's no easy feat: the file arrived on a CD-ROM, and it took Swanson time just to find a computer where she could view it.
"It's 589 pages, so we would have to print that document and I would have to scour through it to see where the mistakes are," she said.
She hopes the information, which took four months to arrive, will help her sort out some of her outstanding pay issues.
Before Phoenix, Swanson said there was a pay adviser at her office whom she could consult.
"I used to be able to go up there and you could ask a question," she said. "[Now] I have nobody who I can talk to, nobody I can email."
In response to questions from CBC News about the growing number of public servants resorting to access to information to obtain their pay files, the office of Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough expressed sympathy.
"The problems faced by government employees as a result of the Phoenix pay system are totally unacceptable," wrote press secretary Ashley Michnowski in an email. "We must forge ahead on addressing the Phoenix Pay system issues and backlog."
While she's heartened by this response, Johanna Swanson said it does little to address the frustration she feels, not to mention that of her husband and the employees she counsels over the phone.
"I'm just frustrated. I talk to public servants who have called us to try to get help, and I can't do anything to help them, and I can't do anything to help myself."