Nearly half of public servants paid by Phoenix have reported problems

Nearly one in every two federal public servants paid through the problem-plagued Phoenix system has opened a file seeking redress for a pay issue, CBC News has learned.

Data obtained by Radio-Canada gives 1st public glimpse into number of people affected

As of Aug. 8, there were 156,035 federal employees waiting at least 30 days to have their pay complaint dealt with, new data shows. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Nearly one in every two federal public servants paid through the problem-plagued Phoenix system has opened a file seeking redress for a pay issue, CBC News has learned.

As of Aug. 8, there were 156,035 employees who had been waiting at least 30 days to have their pay complaint dealt with, according to data released to Radio-Canada by a government source.

That number represents nearly one-half of the 313,734 public servants paid through Phoenix. It's also the first instance in which the scope of the Phoenix payroll issues has been laid clear in terms of people affected, rather than in terms of "transactions" or "cases."

The documents show the government has been tracking the numbers of individuals affected by Phoenix since at least June 26.

"It's shocking that we've just learned that they were hiding those numbers, because they didn't want to show how big that catastrophe is for our public servants," said Alexandre Boulerice, the NDP's finance critic.

Different take on earlier data

The data obtained by Radio-Canada offers a different take on the numbers that Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has been releasing, first through regular in-person technical briefings and later through an online "dashboard."

For example, in its most recent dashboard update, PSPC said last month there were still roughly 228,000 outstanding Phoenix "cases" requiring resolution, without noting how many federal employees that number represented.

"The idea that the government has withheld this information, said that they couldn't produce it, and now it's very clear that it's available … that's so frustrating," said Greg McGillis, regional executive vice-president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).

Both PSAC and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) said they'd been trying to get that data from the government for more than a year — without any luck.

Stéphane Aubry, national vice-president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, says it's important to show the scope of the Phoenix payroll saga in terms of the number of people affected. (CBC)

"We have been asking for those numbers for a while. Not just the numbers of transactions, but the actual numbers of employees, of people affected by the system," said PIPSC national vice-president Stéphane Aubry.

"We are worried with the numbers we have seen, and the pace at which the cases are resolved, that the situation will last for a long time."

Both unions also called on PSPC to return to holding public Phoenix briefings before the media.

'It's utterly disappointing'

Alupa Clarke, the Conservatives' public services critic, said the fact that so many public servants were facing pay problems under Phoenix was simply "unbelievable."

"It's utterly disappointing. I feel deceived, as most Canadians should feel, and as most public workers should feel also," Clarke said.

In an email statement, Steven MacKinnon, parliamentary secretary to the minister of public services and procurement, said the government was currently working to "collect and refine information on an employee-by-employee basis."

In an interview with CBC News Thursday morning, MacKinnon acknowledged at least 100,000 public servants are still experiencing pay problems, but would not discuss the specifics in the document.

MacKinnon would not commit to releasing the number of employees affected and instead referred to the department's practice of tracking the number of "transactions" that need to be addressed.

"We know with absolute certainty that the transaction number is the correct number, and we also know with certainty that it is the number we use best as a management tool to eliminate this problem."

MacKinnon said implementing new collective agreements for unionized workers has also been a significant challenge for the pay system.

"That represents an enormous spike, if you will, in the volume of transactions that we need to work on," MacKinnon said. "We do have a hump to get over."

Federal workers, retirees, students and employees on leave have all reported serious errors with their paycheques since the consolidated pay system was launched in February 2016. Complaints have included workers being overpaid, underpaid and not paid at all.

​The government has estimated it will cost more than $400 million to fix the system.

With files from Catherine Lanthier and Jennifer Choi