Federal scientists latest group burned by Phoenix pay problems

About 1,700 federal government chemists and biologists are the latest public servants to discover pay stubs riddled with errors thanks to the problematic Phoenix pay system.

1,700 chemists and biologists underpaid or overpaid after new collective agreement

About 1,700 federal government chemists and biologists are the latest public servants to discover pay stubs riddled with errors thanks to the problematic Phoenix pay system.

Many public scientists were expecting to receive retroactive payments after a new collective agreement — going back to September 2014 — recently came into force.

Debi Daviau, president of the PIPSC, says government workers are beyond frustrated with the ongoing Phoenix pay problems. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)
But Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said about a quarter of the 7,000 federal scientists didn't get their proper pay.

Pay problems since winter 2016

Since the federal government launched the consolidated pay system in February 2016, tens of thousands of public servants have found errors on their pay cheques, with federal workers as well as retirees, students and employees on leave reporting being overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all.

Late last week, the government sent a letter advising employees of the latest problem.

The note states: "Please be advised that a technical issue occurred during the processing of mass revisions for the Applied Science and Patent Examination (SP) group ... as a result of this technical issue, some employees in the SP group may see an incorrect rate of pay or deductions on their June 14th, 2017 pay stub."

Public Services and Procurement Canada said the June 14 pay stub error is a priority issue for the department and errors are expected to be corrected on the workers' June 28 pay.

Daviau said at this stage, more than a year after the first problems emerged, it's difficult to have any confidence that it will be fixed by next week.

"As problems continue to crop up and the level of problems continues to be on the rise, it's clear that the timelines for fixing Phoenix, for reaching a steady state, just continue to get longer, and longer and longer," Daviau said.

She said the errors discovered in the last pay cheque are not the first time some employees have encountered problems with their pay.

"I was stopped by a woman just the other day in Tunney's Pasture, a scientist who was affected. For eight months she was not in receipt of full pay while on parental leave, which is already a stressful time," said Daviau. "Weeks later finds herself with this problem with retropay."

Marie Lemay, the deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, had warned earlier this month that new contracts and summer hires could slow process of handling Phoenix-related issues. (CBC)

'We're just crossing our fingers'

The federal government has been trying to get through a backlog of employee complaints with the Phoenix system.

But Marie Lemay, the deputy minister in charge of fixing the system, acknowledged during a June 2 briefing that the new collective agreements as well as the hiring of 5,000 extra students for the summer, would likely stall the process.

At the time she said the backlog of transactions that need to be resolved was at 345,000, up from the 284,000 cases that clogged the system in early April, and that 265,000 transactions of extra work needed to dealt with before they reached a steady state.

The government estimates it will cost $402 million and counting to fix the troubled pay system.

Daviau said workers are beyond frustrated. Some, she says, are financially devastated.

"We're just crossing our fingers and hoping for the very best for our members for the next pay period," said Daviau.