Ottawa·Phoenix Falling

Trudeau calls Phoenix pay problem an 'unacceptable situation'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the ongoing problem with the Phoenix pay system that has affected tens of thousands of government workers "is an unacceptable situation" inherited from the former Conservative government.

Canada's prime minister asks Privy Council clerk to oversee pay system file

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Phoenix pay system problem was inherited from the previous Conservative government, and that his government's immediate focus is to fix the system. (CBC)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the ongoing problem with the Phoenix pay system that has affected tens of thousands of government workers "is an unacceptable situation" inherited from the former Conservative government.

"This is an unacceptable situation and we are trying to fix it," Trudeau said in French during an interview Wednesday morning with Radio-Canada's François Cormier and Martine Defoy.

"We inherited the system from the previous government," he added, echoing last week's words from Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board, who told CBC News the Liberals "inherited a mess from the Harper government," which "let the system deteriorate."

While the new system was spearheaded under the previous Conservative government, it rolled out in phases under the Trudeau government's watch earlier this year in spite of a warning from the largest union representing federal public servants.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada said thousands of its members experienced problems during the first phase of the rollout, which began in late February, and in April the union warned the Liberals not to move ahead with the second phase.

At the time, the government responded that only 300 people had made formal complaints, and that "almost all" of the technical issues had been resolved.

'We are taking this very, very seriously'

A part of the Liberal election platform in 2015 was centred on restoring "respect" for the public service, which saw a number of cuts under the Conservatives. During a child benefit news conference later Wednesday morning, Trudeau told reporters fixing the Phoenix pay issue is part of fulfilling that promise.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government is, for the moment, focused on restoring proper pay, not holding people to account. 1:11

"We got elected on a commitment to support our public service, to respect the work they do, and to make sure that we have a smooth, functioning system. We are working hard to fix the Phoenix system," Trudeau said.

"There are people retiring who aren't getting the right benefits, there are people who've gotten promotions that haven't been reflected in their pay, and there are a troubling number of families who are not getting their pay at all."

Trudeau said he has tasked the clerk of the Privy Council to oversee efforts to fix the system. Asked whether anyone will be held accountable for the system's problems, Trudeau said the government is right now focusing on addressing the problems first.

"There will be time to talk about lessons learned down the road, but we are taking this very, very seriously and ensuring that people get the support and the pay that they are owed," he said.

The Phoenix system was introduced in early 2016 for some departments.

About 720 public servants — mostly new hires and students — have contacted the government about not receiving pay. Another 1,100 have not received parental, long-term disability or severance payments, while more than 80,000 employees entitled to supplementary pay for extra duties, overtime or pay adjustments have had problems.

Phoenix Falling

CBC Ottawa has been collecting stories from civil servants, part-time employees and student workers who have been hit by the Phoenix payroll system problems. Here are some of their stories:

Want to share your own story? Email us