Phoenix fix shifts focus to new cases as backlog shrinks

Government workers are still trying to clear a backlog of 7,000 cases of civil servants having problems getting paid under the Phoenix system, but the focus is beginning to shift to resolving more recent pay problems more quickly, the government says.

Backlog now sits at 7,000, deputy minister announces during update

Marie Lemay, deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, listens to a question during a technical briefing on the Phoenix pay system in August 2016. An update on the system is expected today. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Government workers are still trying to clear a backlog of 7,000 cases of civil servants having problems getting paid under the Phoenix system, but the focus is beginning to shift to resolving more recent cases, the government says.

Phoenix, a computerized pay system, rolled out last February, leading to complaints by tens of thousands of federal employees. Some were underpaid, others were overpaid and some were not paid at all. 

At the last briefing on Jan. 11, Public Services and Procurement Canada deputy minister Marie Lemay said the backlog of civil servants experiencing problems with their pay under the troubled Phoenix system had dropped to 8,000, down from 10,000 in December.

But those numbers only represent the backlog of cases filed by the end of June 2016. Federal unions have said even more workers have come forward with pay problems since that time.

Public Services and Procurement Canada said more than 14,000 top priority cases have emerged since July 1, 2016, representing employees who say they're either not getting paid or are being paid incorrectly because they went on leave or left the public service.

The government has not provided the number of lower priority cases filed since July 2016, including discrepancies in acting pay or overtime, for example. Those types of cases represented the bulk of the initial backlog of 82,000.

Issues with acting pay dominate backlog

Lemay said Wednesday the remaining 7,000 cases in the backlog relate to acting pay problems. Of the 7,000 cases, 5,000 of them are partly resolved.

As the backlog continues to shrink, Lemay said the focus is switching to more recent pay requests, which are taking months longer to deal with than government standards dictate.

Compensation advisers will be reassigned to deal with incoming requests and bring down wait times, she said. Parental and disability leave requests are being made priorities at the request of public service unions, Lemay added.

"Eliminating the backlog will be very important, but we need to shift our focus toward improving our service standards. There are too many employees that are waiting too long for their pay," she said.

Some positives: Lemay

Lemay said that while it's hard to see anything positive amid the problems, the government is beginning to see some benefits to pay system automation under Phoenix "for certain kinds of transactions."

On Wednesday, about 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency employees received a second retroactive payment related to collective bargaining.

Since July, more than 100,000 employees have received more than $500,000,000 in overtime payments without the requests needing to be processed at the pay centre, a step that was required in the past.

"I wish there would be quicker and simpler ways to fix the pay issues. We are working very hard and there is still much to do, but we are making some progress. I understand that the employees are not starting to really see and feel the results of the progress, but they will, because we are now focused intensely on the wait times," Lemay said.