Phoenix pay problems linger long after compensation plan lapsed

The federal government's compensation program for public servants who've suffered hardship under the broken Phoenix pay system expired more than two years ago. Some workers say they're still suffering, and their unions are calling for action.

Government's compensation program expired in March 2020

Several people are raising flags and signs in protest outside a building.
Federal public servants hold a demonstration in Ottawa in October 2017. Nearly five years later, some current and former workers say they're still suffering under the broken Phoenix pay system, but the government's compensation program has expired. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Though some current and former federal public servants remain vexed by Phoenix pay problems, the government's compensation program — created to extend aid to employees who've suffered financial hardship under the faulty pay system — expired in 2020, leaving some workers without any relief.

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) created a claims program to compensate public servants for damages inflicted by the broken pay system between 2016 and 2020.  Most severe hardships payments have a threshold of $1,500. General compensation is capped at $2,500.

The agreement expired in 2020, but the problems with Phoenix didn't expire.- David McNairn, Association of Justice Counsel

The system, introduced more than six years ago, has overpaid, underpaid and failed to pay thousands of federal employees ever since.

Some say they're still suffering under Phoenix. Some have declared bankruptcy, forfeited their homes or taken on multiple jobs to make ends meet. They include former employees who have been haunted by Phoenix well into retirement.

Yet there's no agreement in place to compensate public servants for ongoing Phoenix-related woes past March 31, 2020. 

'This hasn't gone away'

"There's still new [pay issue] cases being opened. There are still problems," said Dominique Petit, a former public servant who has not yet received her general damages compensation of $1,000, promised to her by March. 

Petit believes it's "short-sighted" of the government to refuse to offer compensation for hardship endured over the last two and a half years. 

"I realistically believe that they'll find themselves in a situation again in a few years from now where they're having to renegotiate a new damages payment plan, because this hasn't gone away."

Petit said the government failed to properly pay her at the correct rates when she transferred positions and received raises. She received several paycheques after leaving the federal public service, but has no idea whether she was overpaid or is owed more. She's fearful that the government could decide to claw some of the money back.

"I was excited to work for the federal government, [but] the pay was screwed up most of the time I was there," said Petit, now a university student.

"Years later and I still have this dangling over me. I don't know when they'll come for [me]."

Federal workers in New Brunswick point to a pay stub riddled with errors due to the Phoenix pay system. (CBC)

Annette Santoro, who worked for Shared Services Canada until May, has yet to receive a large portion of her last paycheque. That put a damper on her family's finances, as she didn't have another contract immediately lined up.

"We now had a loss of income for those months," Santoro said. "We're still catching up."

She estimates the government owes her more than $10,000 in overtime pay. 

Because Santoro's pay problems began in 2022, she's ineligible to apply for compensation under the expired program. 

She believes the government's compensation program is inadequate because it pays too little and ended too soon.

"I don't think it's fair," she said.

  • Have your Phoenix damages payout been clawed back by the government? Email

Unions also concerned

Since the agreement expired, the National Joint Council bargaining agents, a group of unions representing public servants, has periodically expressed the need for its renewal to compensate public servants for damages incurred since 2020, according to the Association of Justice Counsel. 

"It's concerning because the agreement expired in 2020, but the problems with Phoenix didn't expire," said David McNairn, president of the federal union representing 2,600 lawyers in the public service.

McNairn said unions have mentioned this gap a few times to Treasury Board Secretariat officials.

"There was no commitment to pursue or implement any new damages agreement. And that's where it sits," he said.

"These are not problems created by employees. These are problems created by the employer's pay system."

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) — the largest federal government union with more than 230,000 members — agrees more can be done.

"We still have tens of thousands of members who are impacted," wrote PSAC president Chris Aylward in an emailed statement. "In fact, we've rewound the clock more than two years on outstanding pay problems, with 380,000 open claims today — the highest number we've seen since March 2020."

TBS open to discussion

According to Aylward, PSAC called for an extension of the agreement earlier this year, citing "ongoing stress, aggravation, pain and suffering caused by this payroll fiasco.

"We will work to secure additional compensation as soon as possible," Aylward wrote.

TBS declined an interview. A spokesperson wrote in an email that public servants "deserve to be paid properly for their important work," but didn't commit to compensating them further.

"We are aware that bargaining agents have recently raised the issue of further compensation for Phoenix damages beyond [2020]," wrote Barb Couperus.

Instead, the department said it's "committed to continuing to meet" with unions to "discuss these concerns."


  • A previous version of this story stated the severe hardships payments top out at $1,500. In fact, they have a threshold of $1,500.
    Sep 15, 2022 11:37 AM ET


Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang


Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang is a reporter with CBC News based in Ottawa. She's worked with the investigative unit, CBC Toronto, and CBC North in Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. She has a Master of Journalism from Carleton University. Want to contact her? Email