Archived: Government of Canada update on the Phoenix Pay System for 18 July, 2016
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Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for joining us.
Today, I am here to provide you with an update on Phoenix, the Government’s new pay system.
Before we start, I want to say that I am deeply concerned about the pay problems reported by public servants. Since joining the Department on April 11, I have personally spent an enormous amount of time working on this file. Ensuring that our staff are paid what they earn is my top priority. This situation is completely unacceptable, and we are all working around the clock to resolve these problems as quickly as possible.
The Current Situation
A significant number of employees are experiencing some form of pay issue. I want to be clear that most of these employees are receiving their normal, day-to-day pay. The majority of issues involve supplementary pay, such as for acting and overtime. Nonetheless, all cases are important and need to be fixed.
We have a plan to address each one of these issues.
First and foremost, employees not receiving any pay are our top priority. This includes missing pay for new hires, including students, or pay that was not restarted for employees returning to work from leave without pay.
As of last Friday, out of the almost 300,000 employees on payroll, 720 employees had contacted us to report they had not received any pay. We have taken action to address all of these cases, and 486 of these employees will receive a payment on the July 27 pay day.
We have contacted the departments of the remaining employees to quickly obtain the information we need to get these people paid.
It is important that anyone not being paid contact us immediately so we can help as quickly as possible. If an employee’s paperwork has not been submitted to our Pay Centre on time, our compensation advisors may not know that person is missing a pay. Reporting these problems quickly is key, and the best way to do that is through our online feedback form, available on the main page of our website.
It’s also important for employees to speak with their manager as soon as they notice an issue with their pay to discuss next steps and the resources available within their department to help them resolve the issue or obtain emergency financial assistance, if needed.
Employees can also use our feedback form to request emergency salary advances. We send these requests directly to the responsible departments’ chief financial officers on a daily basis for immediate action. No employee should go unpaid when each department and agency can issue an emergency salary advance within a few days of a request.
Our second priority are cases related to employees going on leave or exiting the public service. These include maternity or parental payments, long-term disability, severance payments or requests for records of employment. We have received complaints from approximately 1,100 employees regarding these types of leave and we are addressing them urgently.
As a third priority, we are focusing on a backlog of employee cases where they are receiving regular pay, but are missing supplementary pay, such as acting or extra duty pay, and salary increment adjustments. This represents approximately 80,000 employees. Addressing all these cases is a significant amount of work that will take time to complete, but we will do what is necessary to resolve them as quickly as possible. They are being handled through our Temporary Pay Unit, here in Gatineau, while our staff in Miramichi handle new day-to-day requests and high priority issues, such as missing pay.
We are following a prioritized schedule to manage these backlogged cases. We currently have 56 employees working in the Temporary Pay Unit, and that number will rise to 89 over the next few weeks. We plan to hire as many people as necessary in the Unit to accelerate the processing of cases. To that effect, I am very happy to be working with our union partners to find ways to encourage and enable former compensation experts to temporarily join our pay offices.
So how did we get to this point?
There were issues observed shortly after Phoenix was implemented. As with any major IT system, we expected to see some challenges, and early on, we were able to address the majority of issues as they arose. However, the volume of issues being detected and pay problems reported quickly outstripped our capacity to respond. Once this happened, we investigated the situation and determined that pay issues stemmed from two major sources.
First, we accumulated a large backlog of unprocessed pay because of the learning curve for Phoenix users as they adjusted to new processes. This is really the central reason we are where we are. It is clear that we underestimated the amount of time it would take for all users to become trained and familiar with the system.
We are working with all of the departments and agencies to fix this and doubling our efforts to prevent new problems from happening. Even though a significant amount of work was done to provide training and support materials prior to the implementation of Phoenix, clearly, it was not enough.
Second, close to 40,000 old and backdated employee cases were in the system and needed to be processed when Phoenix came online.
This is the difficult situation we are facing and I am now going to tell you what we are doing to fix it as quickly as possible.
We have already added extra staff to our Miramichi Pay Centre and established our Temporary Pay Unit to help address this situation. Today, I am announcing that we are taking the following additional steps to help those experiencing pay problems and prevent further issues from arising.
- Technical enhancements are being made to Phoenix so that each department can view all their transactions in the system. This will allow them to resolve any pay issues stemming from incomplete or inaccurate information being sent to Phoenix. We are also adding an email notification system so that managers are notified when they have a pending transaction to approve. Both of these enhancements will help pay requests flow more quickly through Phoenix.
- We are increasing the phone line capacity at the Pay Centre in Miramichi will be increased to ensure that employees calling to report an issue with their pay can get through and speak to someone.
- We are also working very closely with our colleagues in all departments to ensure that employees are fully trained on how to use Phoenix and understand the roles they play to keep pay requests moving quickly and accurately. We will also re-engage the middle managers community and develop additional user-friendly reference materials, such as checklists and tips for managers. In addition, we will work with the Canada School of the Public Service to examine additional training needs and opportunities.
- We are committed to supporting employees who have faced financial hardship because of this situation and we are exploring options to allow claims for the reimbursement of various expenses incurred because of inaccurate or missing pay. This could include penalties for missed loan payments, insufficient funds or late payments for student tuitions.
- As well, employees here in Gatineau and in Miramichi are working extra hours to resolve pay issues as quickly as possible. As I mentioned earlier, to further accelerate our progress, we are working with our union partners to find ways to encourage and enable former compensation experts to temporarily join our pay offices.
- To facilitate the quick ramping up of the Pay Centre, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat has reached an agreement in principle with the Public Service Alliance of Canada to re-hire a number of pay advisors/compensation specialists to support the satellite pay office. The agreement in principle covers former employees who were laid off over the course of the past year and received a payment or an education allowance under the terms of the Work Force Adjustment Directive. With this agreement, we will reach out to departments to obtain their list of former pay advisors and compensation specialists, and communicate with former employees to gauge their interest in coming back.
- This agreement in principle demonstrates the commitment of all parties to the shared objective of making sure employees are paid as quickly as possible.
- Minister Foote has also asked the Auditor General of Canada to review the implementation of the Phoenix system. We believe that an independent and objective assessment would provide valuable insights into the planning and implementation of major projects, which would undoubtedly benefit PSPC and other government organizations. Should an audit take place, we will fully support the Auditor General and his staff in their work.
The introduction of Phoenix was a major undertaking. Our previous pay system, developed in the 1970s, had become inefficient, provided limited functionality and was unreliable, having completely failed on one occasion.
Public service pay is complex, involving many different rules and requirements. Given our various collective agreements and legislation, more than 80,000 pay rules had to be built into Phoenix to pay close to 300,000 employees.
Before the implementation, we tested the system with more than 16,000 different pay scenarios to ensure that information flowed accurately between the HR systems and Phoenix.
Despite all this planning and preparation, we are now facing critical pay problems. We have a lot of work to do to get the pay system moving as intended and we will do what is necessary to get it done.
I know our current situation is causing real challenges and financial hardship for employees. Please know that we are working very hard to resolve all issues as quickly as possible. I want to remind employees that if they are facing financial hardship because of missing or inaccurate pay, we have processes in place to issue emergency salary advances. Please complete the feedback form on our website as soon as possible. We will send your request directly to your department for immediate action. As well, all employees affected by this stressful situation, and those working tirelessly to resolve issues, should speak to their manager to ensure that they have all the support that they need during this difficult time.
In closing, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the hard work of two groups supporting our pay transformation efforts: our Phoenix project team and our Pay Centre team. We remain fully committed to supporting them and to ensuring the long-term success of the Pay Centre in Miramichi.
I would also like to acknowledge the excellent support we have received from all our departmental partners, particularly in helping us staff our Temporary Pay Unit.
Next week, I will provide another update on our progress. Information about our backlog plan and our progress toward addressing these outstanding issues will also soon be available on our website so that employees can see exactly when their issues will be resolved.
Thank you for your time.
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