Pay workers complain of pressure to close Phoenix cases

In an attempt to deal with the growing backlog of flawed pay files, compensation advisors working in Phoenix pay centres tell CBC they're under intense pressure to quickly close incorrect pay complaints, even when the problems haven't been fully resolved.

Compensation staff say they're pressured to quickly close pay files, even when problems aren't fully resolved

Public servants protested against the failed Phoenix payroll system in the Fall of 2017. (Julie Ireton/CBC)

In an attempt to deal with the growing backlog of flawed pay files, federal compensation advisors working to address issues related to the Phoenix pay system tell CBC News they're under intense pressure to quickly close complaints over incorrect pay, even when the problems haven't been fully resolved.

The union that represents the pay centre employees said pressures do exist.

"The working environment in our view is really toxic," said Randy Howard, the newly elected president of the Government Services Union.

The Phoenix payroll program was first introduced in February 2016 and is now being used by 100 federal departments and agencies, but since the system's roll-out, hundreds of thousands of government workers have been improperly paid, and these issues continue.

After the government acknowledged the technology didn't work as expected, more compensation advisors and satellite pay centres had to be established. But the backlog of cases has persisted.

"I will say, there is pressure to have files completed," Howard said. "But the reality of it is the system doesn't allow them to do the functions properly. They're trying to get through the files so quickly to get an employee paid that they might not have time to go through the file and look at it."

Randy Howard, the new president of the Government Services Union, visited the Miramichi pay centre on Wednesday. (submitted )
Earlier this week, Howard visited the workers his union represents at the Public Service Pay Centre in Miramichi, N.B., and talked to some of the 716 compensation employees now charged with trying to work with the system. Several compensation workers also reached out to CBC News about the pressures they face.

Quality more important than quantity, says deputy minister

This week compensation workers received a statement from Marc Lemieux, the assistant deputy minister of pay administration at Public Services and Procurement Canada, saying management was aware of allegations "that some employees feel under pressure to close cases that have not been processed."

"We trust that our employees processing pay are following proper procedures…. While the volume of cases processed is measured, the quality of the work done is even more important and a key factor for us in achieving client service excellence," Lemieux said in his statement.

Quality assurance is important to the department and extra training has been provided, Lemieux said.

But the union said training has been reduced significantly since Phoenix was first introduced and as more compensation workers are hired to help manage the growing tangle of cases.

"When the pay centre first opened they had an 18-month training period and then they reduced it to 12 months and now they've abolished it all together," said Howard. Until the entire pay system works properly, it's almost impossible to train workers and get the right outcomes, notes Howard.

"The whole problem is the whole pay system, even though they want to say it's functioning the way it's supposed to, we know that it's not," said Howard, who said workers expressed their frustration during his visit. 

"They're at a point now that they don't want to even trust the employer. There's been numerous attempts at trying to change process to make it better, but every time they step it forward, it's two steps back."