Politics

Phoenix payroll fiasco hits staff who worked overtime to help resettle 25,000 Syrians

Some immigration staffers who worked overtime to help the Liberal government with its goal to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees are the latest federal employees to report payment problems due to a new payroll system called Phoenix.

Some immigration workers who helped with refugees didn't get paid for extra time they worked

Immigration staff who worked overtime to help the Trudeau government resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees are the latest federal employees to report payment problems due to a new payroll system called Phoenix. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

When the last of the 25,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Canada, the milestone was marked as a moment of pride by the newly elected government. 

But now the workers who helped the government achieve this goal are the latest to get caught up in Ottawa's payroll fiasco.

"We are aware that some employees have yet to receive the overtime pay connected to work on the Syrian refugee resettlement initiative," said Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

"We are working with Public Services and Procurement Canada to resolve these issues as quickly as possible."

Resettling families fleeing the civil war in Syria was a key election promise for the Liberals.

More than 500 people worked on the Trudeau government's initiative to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees (a mix of government-assisted refugees and privately sponsored ones) between last November and the end of February.

Caron did not say exactly how many employees have been affected.

When the first phase of the project was complete, Immigration Minister John McCallum was publicly supportive of everyone involved in "Operation Syrian Refugees." 

In late February, McCallum told reporters: "It's important that we're sending a message to the world, it's important that we're helping 25,000 people from desperate conditions have a happy and productive life in Canada.

"Many countries from around the world today are making it more difficult for refugees to come … and they are setting up more barriers, and we are among the few countries who are saying, 'No, come on in, we want to welcome 25,000 quickly.'"

A spokesperson for the minister said Friday "of course" staff should be compensated for the work they've done. "We understand this issue is being resolved as quickly as possible."

The Citizenship and Immigration Canada staffers are among the more than 80,000 public servants who are experiencing pay problems after the federal government implemented a new computerized payroll system called Phoenix. 

The prime minister has called the situation "unacceptable" and has asked the Privy Council clerk to oversee the program.

The deputy minister of public works has said it could take months to solve all of the pay problems.

Departmental officials will hold an update on Phoenix next July 28..

With files from CBC's Susana Mas

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