Ottawa

Phoenix problems worsen in wake of labour deals, MP says

The parliamentary secretary to the minister in charge of the troubled Phoenix pay system is blaming recently ratified labour agreements for a glut of fresh cases that's further straining efforts to fix a problem that appears to be growing by the day.

9K fresh complaints logged in August as government struggles with raises, bonuses, backpay

Steve MacKinnon, MP for Gatineau and parliamentary secretary to the minister of Public Services and Procurement, says recently ratified labour deals with federal public service unions has exacerbated the Phoenix problems. (CBC)

The parliamentary secretary to the minister in charge of the troubled Phoenix pay system is blaming recently ratified labour agreements for a glut of fresh cases that's further straining efforts to fix a problem that appears to be growing by the day.

The backlog of complaints from federal public servants who have been overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all has ballooned by another 9,000 since the beginning of August, bringing the total number of cases waiting to be resolved to 237,000.

Gatineau MP Steve MacKinnon, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Public Services and Procurement, blames new labour deals for the latest wave of complaints. 

"We have this major bulge of collective bargaining work to do," MacKinnon told CBC Radio's Ontario Today on Monday. "We understand that people have been very patient and we have tried the patience of many public servants."

Raises, bonuses, backpay

The government recently settled contracts with unions representing 90 per cent of the public service workforce. It's now struggling to implement those negotiated changes which include raises, bonuses and retroactive pay, said MacKinnon.
Dozens gather at a Montreal protest in the spring to denounce the Phoenix payroll system. (Jérôme Labbé/Radio-Canada)

Once those issues have been addressed, he said the government will devote all its resources to tackling the growing backlog of Phoenix-related cases until it reaches a "steady state."

"We will solve this problem in the foreseeable future," said MacKinnon.

As for when that might happen, MacKinnon declined to provide a specific target, saying he was unwilling to "put a date out there that we're going to miss."

As CBC reported last week, nearly half of all federal public servants paid through the problem-plagued Phoenix system have opened at least one file seeking redress for a pay issue. As of Aug. 8, there were 156,035 employees who had been waiting at least 30 days to have a pay complaint dealt with, according to data obtained by Radio-Canada.

Critics, including union leaders, accused the government of trying to hide those figures in an attempt to mask the true extent of the problem.

"I can assure everyone that this is no more motivated person in the government of Canada than myself and my colleagues to make sure we are able to solve this problem for our hard working public servants," MacKinnon said Monday.

Cabinet shuffle 

Former minister Judy Foote announced her resignation from the federal cabinet last week, forcing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to shuffle his cabinet Monday. MP Carla Qualtrough is now taking Foote's post at the helm of the department overseeing the Phoenix system.
Judy Foote announced her resignation from federal cabinet last Thursday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"It's a very complex issue," said Qualtrough. "We appreciate this as a significant problem. My impression, having talked about it around the cabinet table, is that we are headed in the right directions, but there are many obstacles to overcome still."

Qualtrough told public servants personally affected by pay problems that they deserve to be paid properly.

"I look forward to being briefed and working to remedy this as soon as possible for public servants who have been waiting so long to get this fixed," she said Monday.

Carla Qualtrough is the new Minister of Public Service and Procurement Canada. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

'Pay bulletin' aimed at transparency

Also on Monday, a ministerial working group tasked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fix the pay issues announced a new "pay bulletin" in an effort to be more transparent.

The bulletin shows the federal government's pay centre in Miramichi, N.B., is struggling to keep up with the constant flow of new cases. According to the website, 49 per cent of the cases handled there are being dealt with within the prescribed time. That's an improvement over July, when just 35 per cent were resolved on time.

The repair bill for Phoenix has risen to about $402 million — more than the $309.5-million cost of implementing the payroll system in the first place.

Have a Phoenix story to tell? Email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca

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