Phoenix pay system issues making it impossible to track hiring of veterans in public service

Problems with the federal government’s Phoenix pay system are making it impossible for a program designed to facilitate the integration of veterans in the federal public service to collect hiring statistics.

Vets with PTSD working in federal public service not being paid because of Phoenix: Union

Veterans salute during a Remembrance Day ceremony in Montreal, earlier this year. An internal government document indicates that the federal government is unable to track how many veterans are working in the public service. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Problems with the federal government's Phoenix pay system are making it impossible for a program designed to facilitate the integration of veterans in the federal public service to collect hiring statistics.

The finding is contained in a document from Veterans Affairs Canada that CBC News has obtained through the Access to Information Act.

The Dec. 2016 report entitled Veteran Appointments to the Federal Public Service, warns that "...new coding and data formatting has negatively impacted the ability to collect hiring data…It is anticipated that these numbers will be available in January 2017."

That deadline came and went. There is still no data, and without it, it's become impossible to find out how well the program is working.

This has become a problem for Alex Grant, a 30-year navy veteran who is in charge of a new program within Veterans Affairs called the Veterans in the Public Service unit.

Though he stresses that the absence of statistics has no effect on the program's ability to promote the hiring of veterans within the federal civil service, he concedes that the Phoenix problems are making his life difficult.

"In my tactical world…I want to know whether I'm having a positive impact…  And I would obviously like to see an uptick in…hires so I can validate my business model."

'Scary for veterans'

The Veterans Affairs internal document explains that hiring data comes from the government's pay system, which means that the Public Service Commission, the federal agency responsible for collecting these statistics, has no data to work with.

The problem affects veterans who are given so-called preferential treatment under the Veterans Hiring Act, which came into force July 1, 2015. The act includes two groups: veterans who are given priority treatment because they have been released due to medical conditions such as PTSD. And veterans who are given a favourable, but lower status on the hiring scale. Members in this group have retired under more normal circumstances, or who are still in the force and thinking about switching careers.

The Phoenix pay system problem affects the veterans who fall in this second group.

"I most certainly have heard of this problem," Carl Gannon, National President of the Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees, told CBC News "And it's a very real problem. It's really scary for veterans who are trying to go through the system."

Haven't 'heard' anything

The Public Service Commission's Tanya Perlman says she hopes to have the statistics available "in the New Year."

However, Gannon, whose union is an outspoken critic of the pay system, said he doesn't see the problems being fixed "anytime soon."

He said the Phoenix problem is also having another effect. It's causing a lot of stress for veterans working for departments such as Veterans Affairs and National Defence — the two departments that hire the most vets — who don't know if they're getting paid this month, or the next.

"We're talking about people not getting their paycheques. They're coming to work…and sometimes going a month, two months without getting paid. That's hard to deal with if you have PTSD…It's a catastrophic situation."

A statement from Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan's office sent to CBC by email said "Veterans Affairs has not heard that any Veterans have quit because of Phoenix."

On the issue of a lack of hiring statistics for veterans O'Regan's office said:

"Our government is committed to supporting Canadian Veterans. We have invested in their education, training and leadership development and we recognize that these skills create a very talented labour pool. That is why we are increasing the (number) of Veterans hired by the Federal Public Service."