Government of Canada update on Phoenix pay system - 2017-06-02


Listen to Technical Briefing
on Phoenix

June 2, 2017

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for attending.

Today, I will provide an update on our work, as well as on the implementation of collective agreements.

Let me begin by stating that the resolution of pay issues remains a top priority across government, and that we are working very hard to get these issues addressed and to help affected employees.

Workload

In the briefing provided by Parliamentary Secretary Steven MacKinnon last week, he explained that the months of April and May tend to yield a higher number of transactions in the system. These peaks in transaction volumes are normal and are associated with the hiring of summer students and other seasonal trends. This year, in addition to this increased activity, we have started processing a historic number of collective agreements that need to be done all at the same time. Currently, we are processing retroactive payments from the collective agreements for more than 24,000 employees in the Financial Management group, the Audit, Commerce and Purchasing group as well as the Applied Science and Patent Examination group, and there are many more to come.

All this means that the number of transactions awaiting processing has grown. We had been able to stabilize our workload during March and April, but it has since grown by about 10%.

At this moment in time, we have 345,000 pending pay transactions with some financial impact for employees. Based on historical data, we close approximately 80,000 transactions in the course of a month, which means we have about 265,000 transactions of extra work to get through before we reach a steady state.

Capacity continues to be one of the main challenges. While it’s not the only problem, it’s the one that has contributed most to the issues employees are experiencing. As part of the consolidation of compensation advisors in Miramichi, we lost experienced experts before Phoenix was launched. We can now clearly see that this caused a critical gap during our transition to the new pay system. Having that expertise available during the implementation would have been a game changer.

Last week’s announcement will help to address this gap. Adding more resources will allow us to start making consistent, measureable progress toward a steady state. We are adding 90 more employees to the Pay Centre in Miramichi, as well as more than 140 between our satellite offices and our operations in Matane and Shediac. This additional capacity will help us process collective agreements. We’ll be keeping all our satellite offices open for as long as we need to. As well, we are looking across the public service to see if there may be additional capacity and expertise that we can leverage.

Once we get these new resources on board, we can build on the progress already made, which includes:

Technology

In addition to more people, Parliamentary Secretary MacKinnon announced last week an investment in a case management system. This new tool will allow us to provide more useful and accurate information to employees who are enquiring about their pay transactions. Working with employees and unions, we are also looking to address technical issues and implement other technical enhancements needed to improve Phoenix.

Collective agreements

Implementing collective agreements continues to be a priority. In order to be as efficient as possible, we are changing the way we process pay transactions.

Previously, we were prioritizing specific transaction types to bring them to steady state before moving on to the next priority transaction type. We are now increasingly pursuing a one-employee / one-pay-file approach where we process many transactions in an employee’s pay file at once. This is something that employees have been asking for, and it will also allow us to more seamlessly implement the retroactive payments from collective agreements.

To date, we have completed the implementation of one agreement for the Canada Revenue Agency, and we have two others in progress. On May 3, 90% of employees from the Financial Management group started receiving salary adjustments and retroactive payments, which will continue into August. The first payment for the Audit, Commerce and Purchasing group was made this week. We are also preparing to implement other collective agreements.

Reporting

The government wants to continue to be open and transparent with employees and the public on this issue. This is a complex situation, and the associated numbers and concepts can be confusing. To that end, one of the first things the working group of ministers identified was a need to provide clearer, more useful information to employees and to the public. We are currently working on a new version of the public service pay dashboard to ensure that we provide employees with useful information regarding our progress.

Conclusion

Phoenix has placed a great deal of stress on employees and their families, and I am deeply sorry for the challenges they are facing. I encourage any employees who need support to speak to their manager or contact their department’s employee assistance program.

Thank you.

Technical Briefing on Phoenix

Audio transcript

Operator: Thank you. Merci. We will now take questions from the telephone line.

Nous allons maintenant passer à la période de questions.

We have a first question, la première question de Catherine Lanthier, Radio-Canada.

Please go ahead, la parole est à vous.

Question: Hello, Ms. Lemay. I would like to know whether the stability that was expected for the spring has been achieved for the following categories: new hires, terminations, returns from leave, acting appointments and deployments.

Marie Lemay: Thank you for your question, Ms. Lanthier. That’s what I was trying to explain, so thank you for giving me the chance to clarify that we are reorganizing our, the way we do our work. What we have realized is that the, with the collective agreements coming, it forces us to no longer process transactions one category at a time.

So the approach we had, and which we reported by category with an expected steady state date, we have been forced to change the approach, because to be able to facilitate the implementation of the collective agreements, various transactions in an employee’s file have to be resolved to be able to properly, properly process, so to speak, the collective agreements retroactively.

So we are being forced to change the category approach, so we can no longer track the steady state by category, and that is why there is still no public service pay services dashboard. We are looking at how we can now report on progress to employees, because it will be more by transaction. Therefore, the approach will be more by, we will track the progress of collective agreements, and we will of course continue the steady state that has been achieved where it has been achieved. But we no longer work by category.

Question: So you are not able to tell us today whether you have achieved your objectives for the categories listed, or at least give us an idea?

Marie Lemay: That’s right.

Operator: Thank you. Merci. The next question is from Rachel Aiello from The Hill Times. Please go ahead, la parole est à vous.

Question: Hi. Thank you. I'm hoping you can just clarify again the, the total number of the backlog now and explain why that did go up?

Marie Lemay: Okay, so you will remember that the last time we met, I believe we were talking about, we were, I think I used the words we're, we're turning the corner, and this was when we were moving a lot of our, our satellite units compensation advisor towards our queue, our inventory. What we were able to do is we were able to stabilize the queue for March and April, but we were not able to bring down the queue. And there's seasonal intake that happens every year, so students and some related to summer.  And that, that is the peak that has caused this increase for the month of May.

What became very clear with the collective bargaining agreements and, and that being a priority in that we have to process this and having to reorganize our work, is that we really needed extra capacity to be able to bring the queue down.  So we were able to stabilize it. The seasonal peak made it increase and the extra capacity now will allow us to bring it down.

Question: And just to clarify again what the specific number is now?

Marie Lemay: So the number is 345,000, but what I'm giving you here is a total queue of, of transactions that have financial impact, which is not a number that, that, where we have in the past reported on. I think the critical thing is the number to keep an eye on is the 265,000 because we have a total of 345,000. We believe that we have a normal intake/output of about 80,000, to be at steady state. So the number that we really want to bring down to zero is, the 265,000. That's the number that we will keep an eye on to make sure that it comes down to zero.

Operator: Thank you. Merci. Our next question is from Boris Proulx, from Journal de Montréal. Please go ahead, la parole est à vous.

Question: Yes, hello. You talked about a system of one employee, one file, so to speak, rather than just a bunch of transactions. When will that be put in place? And also, can you confirm that, in other words, since this whole thing started, there was no way for an employee who had many transactions to get a pay specialist to look at their file as a whole. It had to be done transaction by transaction according to priorities. That was how it worked?

Marie Lemay: So, thank you. Basically the approach that was used at first, it was to train people in transaction specialities. So compensation officers carried out transactions and we were… it’s like we chose that method hoping to be able to achieve efficiency as soon as possible, to be able to bring down the inventory.

Employees expressed their frustration, and rightfully so, because of exactly what you pointed out, multiple transactions could not be processed at once. And that was a model we aimed to achieve in the fall. We wanted to process by transaction until the end of summer and then, in the fall, move to an employee model, because that’s the ultimate model, and that’s what we were aiming for, what we always aimed for.

The difference is that we have accelerated that now. We’ve started and we’re transitioning, and the advantage of doing it now is (1) we are responding to what employees have asked us to do, but (2) it also makes it easier for the administration of collective agreements. So the model, we are accelerating it, it has started, and we’re transitioning.

Question: So you do not have an exact date for the transition, is that right? Just by the fall?

Marie Lemay: Well, in fact, we’re doing it right now in some cases, so it has already started. It’s happening now, and we will get there over the summer.

Operator: Merci. Thank you. Our next question is from Paul Gaboury from Le Droit.  Please go ahead, la parole est à vous.

Question: Yes, hello Ms. Lemay. When you talk about a backlog or, rather, the number of pay transactions, it’s 345,000, but you reduce that to 275,000. Before, you always talked about a two-month backlog. So does that make it a three to four month backlog?

Marie Lemay: Listen, the number I mentioned, it’s 345,000 minus 80,000, that makes it 265,000, and that calculation comes from what we can do – what we are left with outside our normal work, that’s 265,000, or the equivalent of roughly 265,000 transactions. So, as you know, it’s, I would like to be able to draw a direct line there and tell you yes, absolutely, but we can choose different indicators, so to speak. You could use 265 by 80,000, that could be an indicator.

But it, it really isn’t, I would say that it isn’t a perfect method.

Question: So when, when it comes to, for example, the large groups of public servants who have ratified agreements, new agreements, could that number then, for example, increase significantly?

Marie Lemay: So what we have, what we have to look at when, when it comes to collective agreements, there are a number of steps for us in terms of pay, and one of those steps is in fact to some extent to, I would say, clean up transactions, and there are almost half of transactions in the inventory that have to be done, basically, before we can move forward with the various collective agreements.

So that’s why it’s important for us to now move up the model that we had planned for the fall and to start right away to use the employee model, because that allows us to look for transactions sooner that would have been done later in some cases, and vice versa. But, so that, that is what will help us to, about half, I would say, of transactions are related indirectly to the collective agreements and we have to get to them before we are able to process the collective agreements.

Operator: Thank you. Merci. Our next question is from Terry Pedwell from The Canadian Press. Please go ahead, la parole est à vous.

Question: Thank you. Hi Ms. Lemay. I'm just wondering it's been quite a while since these collective bargaining agreements were brought into force. I'm just wondering why it took so long to hire, I guess it's about 230 people to deal with this?

Marie Lemay: So Terry, I understand your question, and I think what we have to collectively remember is that we're, we're not starting today, right? We…when the pay was implemented last year, we hired over 200 people, we opened satellite offices, we've been at this. What, has happened is, again, we were able to stabilize the queue but not bring it down. And yes, you're correct, collective bargaining agreements were there.  We had processed some. We learned from the first processes and for us, it became very clear that if we want to get through this queue and get through the collective bargaining agreement at this point, there's no, no chance to take. We need the capacity.  It absolutely is what will, will help, help us get through, through that queue.

Now, the challenge right now, part of the, not the uncertainty, but we are, depending on how many people we can get and as quickly as we can get them that will dictate how quickly we can get all those processes. So that's what we're assessing right now, is how quickly can we get people? We've already started and we'll be able to then get a better sense of, of the, the future steady state.

Question: So do you know how long it's going to take to, in other words, how long are these going, people going to be on the payroll trying to deal with this, this backlog?

Marie Lemay: Well, the simple answer will be as long as we need to, but the idea is again, as soon…we're being very mindful that we need to get people on as quickly as possible. So we're reaching out everywhere. We've, we made a call out to employees too to see if there was anybody left in the public system that, in terms of compensation advisors that we had reached out, cause as you know, at every tech brief, I've been saying if there's compensation advisors out there, please come and see us. The union's reached out to their members. We've reached out to departments. But in the last effort, we said that maybe there are. It seems that we might have a few people and we're going to take everybody that we can. So the idea is that we want to make sure that we have a capacity as soon as possible.

And the other thing is we also have to train some. So we're doing boot camps, we've adjusted our training methods. We're getting people that can come and, and train intensely, if you want, go back to departments. So we've adjusted all these things to be able to make sure that we bring in capacity as quickly as possible.

Operator: Thank you. Merci. Our next question is from Andrew Foote from CBC. Please go ahead, la parole est à vous.

Question: Good morning. Thanks for the update. I just want to go back to those two numbers that were given out: 345,000 versus 265,000, that's an 80,000 case difference.  Can, can you again go through what's unique about those 80,000?

Marie Lemay: So what we're talking about here is an inventory, right, of transactions.  And on any given day, we will have transactions at the Pay Centre. Like, the transactions… maybe just a bit of a reminder for people. What we're talking about here are – I'll qualify them as almost change order – like, the regular pay goes through every second week, but every day in the public service, you have people that go on acting assignments, that leave on maternity leave, disability, leave without pay. So these things have to then be, need some compensation advisor oversight, if you want. So those, this is the queue of transactions that we have to process, but we have, we expect and we believe that we will have a healthy – what we call a healthy inventory – meaning coming in, going out within service standards, about 80,000 transactions. So if we had 80,000 transactions today and if this is the only number I was talking to you about, we would be in a steady state. That's how we look at this.

So that's why I'm saying the critical number to watch is anything above the 80,000 because that's what we have to bring down to zero. So I'm giving you a total number and I'm saying what we expect to have all the time, any day, if we do, if we do tech briefs in two years from now, I should be telling you we've got 80,000 transactions and we should be okay, you know what I mean? So that it's that additional part that we're checking.

Question: And can you give me a sense of how many new seasonal employees have come on and how many public servants fall under these new collective agreements that you've been speaking of?

Marie Lemay: So in terms of the collective agreements right now, it's 24,000 that we've looked at. But we can give you the, the overall information. I don't have it with me, but we can get it to you. And in terms of seasonal employees, like students, we've got about 5,000 students, but there's also seasonal casual employees and I don't have that number. I'd have to get it to you.

Operator: Thank you. Merci. Our next question is from Ashley Burke from CBC News.  Please go ahead, la parole est à vous.

Question: Hi Ms. Lemay. How many people have stopped working because they aren't getting paid properly?

Marie Lemay: So Ashley, I'm not too sure what answer you want me to, to give you. If I know of somebody who has stopped working because they're not getting paid, then I would make sure they get their pay. I don't know of anybody, myself.

Question: Well there's, there's one person that hasn't, has been working for three months, hasn't been paid and is told that after getting back from a mat leave, that she's owed, she owes them $40,000 in overpayments. And as of June 1st, she told her boss that she won't be working anymore.

Marie Lemay: Okay. So you know, I, what I would really appreciate is for this person to get in touch with me directly. This is, these cases are not happening anymore. Like, it's, we're at steady state. If they happen, they don't – what I mean by they're not happening, they don't need to happen. We are able to address this, so they absolutely have to tell us. You know, part of the complexity of this system, and those of you who have been following this for a while probably understand this is a system that's end to end, right?

So I often talk about what the, even the transactions that I talk about, it's about the Pay Centre. But there's a beginning and an end to this. It starts in the department and it finishes in the bank account of the employees really. And along this chain, there's many things and we are collectively looking at the end to end process and making sure nothing falls through the cracks.

I, I can tell you that we weren't doing that before Phoenix, so there were issues that were falling through the cracks. So what we're trying to do here is make sure that when they do, we know and we can address this. So I would really appreciate it if this person contacted me.

Operator: Thank you. Merci.

Pierre-Alain Bujold: Merci, Sylvie.

That, ceci conclut la période de questions.

This will conclude today's question period.

Merci à tous d'avoir participé.

Thank you very much for attending. If you have further questions, of course, you know how to reach our Media Relations Office.

Merci beaucoup.

Date modified: