Politics

Ottawa offering up financial perks to attract staff to fix Phoenix pay system

The federal government is ramping up its efforts to attract qualified staff to fix its troubled pay system, called Phoenix. The Treasury Board announced today it will offer one time $4000 pay outs, and increased overtime rates in the hopes of hiring more employees to work on the system.

One time $4000 payment, higher overtime rates being used to lure qualified employees

The Treasury Board is offering financial perks in the hopes of attracting qualified compensation advisors to help address challenges from the Phoenix pay system. (Ron Ward/Canadian Press)

Struggling to make improvements to its troubled pay system, Ottawa is now offering financial incentives to attract qualified employees to address the Phoenix program.

The Treasury Board made the announcement today by news release, saying it will offer one time payments of $4,000, temporarily increase overtime rates from time and a half to double-time and temporarily drop restrictions on the amount of vacation that compensation advisors can carry over.

The federal government hopes this will improve the "recruitment and retention of compensation advisors," desperately needed to reduce the backlog of pay problems that tens of thousands of public servants are currently experiencing.

Data obtained by Radio Canada earlier this month, shows that nearly half of all public servants are being under paid, over paid, or not paid at all.

Problems began in February of 2016 when the Liberal government implemented the new self-serve payroll system. It has long argued the program was set up to fail by the previous Conservative government, which cut hundreds of compensation advisor jobs that were needed to roll the program out properly.

When the Conservatives developed Phoenix, the goal was to save taxpayers about $70-million per year.

Since Phoenix was rolled out, Ottawa has spent around $400-million to address problems emerging from the program.

The government will pay for the new financial incentives using money already earmarked to fix the system.

NDP Public Service and Procurement critic Erin Weir welcomes the move, but says this type of action is long overdue.

"Why is the government taking this step more than a year after acknowledging widespread problems with Phoenix?" Weir told CBC News by e-mail.

"Although these incentives will come from previously announced funds, they do represent yet another cost of Phoenix. The new minister of Public Services and Procurement should provide an overall accounting of the Phoenix pay system," Weir added.

New minister, new challenges

The government has acknowledged Phoenix is getting worse, blaming the implementation of a new collective agreement with unionized workers for a recent spike in complaints. 

Carla Qualtrough was named minister of public services and procurement in Monday's cabinet shuffle, which includes responsibility for Phoenix. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The pay system is expected to be a priority for Carla Qualtrough, the newly appointed minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada.

Although a mandate letter listing her objectives has not been released yet, she says getting public servants paid properly will be at the top of her agenda.

"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 reporters shortly after her appointment was announced.

The Liberals have not offered any timeline as to when public servants will be paid properly.

About the Author

Katie Simpson is a foreign correspondent with CBC News based in Washington. Prior to joining the team in D.C. she spent six years covering Parliament Hill in Ottawa and nearly a decade covering local and provincial issues in Toronto.

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