Phoenix payroll fiasco affecting 3 in 10 federal student workers

Nearly 30 per cent of students working for the federal government are experiencing trouble with their pay, according to documents obtained by Radio-Canada.

University of Ottawa says number of students asking for a payment agreement could grow

Students walk and bike through the grounds of the University of Ottawa in 2016. Nearly 30 per cent of all Canadian students who were on the government's payroll are experiencing pay problems because of the Phoenix pay system, according to documents obtained by Radio-Canada. (Danny Globerman/CBC)

As university students head back to school this week, those who spent their summer working for the federal government could have trouble paying tuition.

Nearly 30 per cent of students who were on the government's payroll are experiencing trouble with their wages due to the disastrous Phoenix system, according to documents obtained by Radio-Canada.

As of Aug. 8, 4,382 students out of a total of 15,224 had been waiting more than 30 days for their pay files to be processed, exceeding the service standards established by the government.

That works out to 28.8 per cent of students working in the public service.

The numbers were prepared by the Treasury Board Secretariat for the ministerial working group tasked with fixing problems the government's electronic pay system.

Students already asking for tuition payment agreements

Universities are still trying to figure out the consequences of the pay strain on students, especially regarding their ability to pay tuition fees.

For example, the University of Ottawa said that 10 students so far have applied for a payment plan to defer parts of their tuition.  Spokeswoman Neomie Duval said that number could grow once the scope of the situation becomes clearer.

On March 8, Deputy Minister of Public Works and Government Services Marie Lemay assured public servants that the government had finally begun processing more transactions than it's receiving.

It's unclear if this year's batch of affected students is significantly lower than last year, since the federal government hasn't revealed the total number of students affected by Phoenix misfires.

For example, documents obtained under the Access to Information Act by CBC/Radio-Canada discovered that all 1,659 students hired by Parks Canada in the summer of 2016 experienced irregularities on their pay stub.

As cases get resolved, more come in

The data obtained by Radio-Canada also reveals that it's hard for the federal government to keep its head above water.

Carla Qualtrough is sworn in as minister of public services and procurement during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

While employees at the Public Service Pay Centre in Miramichi, N.B., are able to close tens of thousands of cases each pay period, tens of thousands of others are simultaneously popping up.

For example, during the pay period for June 26, the centre closed 42,463 cases — at the same time that 27,550 new ones came in.

The number of new cases continued to increase to 35,857 on July 25, while 28,381 cases were resolved during the same pay period, the internal documents show.

The Treasury Board Secretariat documents also reveal that since May, the federal government has made nearly 4,000 advances in emergency salary and priority payments.

Nearly half of public servants paid by Phoenix impacted

As CBC reported last month, 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.

That number represents nearly one-half of the 313,734 public servants paid through Phoenix. It's also the first instance in which the scope of the Phoenix payroll issues has been laid clear in terms of people affected, rather than in terms of "transactions" or "cases."

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

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

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