Response from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

From Public Services and Procurement Canada

Mr. Michael Wernick
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet
Privy Council Office
80 Wellington Street, Room 332
Ottawa ON KIA OA3

Dear Mr. Wernick:

Thank you for your letter calling on our collective accountability in working to resolve pay system issues.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has been an active and engaged partner throughout the transformation of pay services initiative, and our management team has been working tirelessly at all levels to help stabilize pay and ensure that employees are paid accurately and on time. Since the deployment of the new pay system, our focus has been on ensuring pay continuity for our employees and creating the necessary infrastructure to assist those who are experiencing financial hardship while their pay issues are being resolved.

As part of the whole-of-government approach to governance and addressing the issues, AAFC remains committed to ensuring ongoing employee support and transparency and strong interdepartmental collaboration.

Supporting our employees

Since the consolidation of pay services, AAFC has created a departmental pay liaison office to provide dedicated support to managers and employees and ensure a timely resolution of issues. The resources and mandate of this unit have increased in response to evolving needs and challenges, and the unit has become an integral part of how employees are supported and their pay issues resolved.

The pay liaison team's efforts are supported by an integrated network of internal structures across the country. AAFC plays a key role in ensuring that processes and system functionality are responsive to the unique challenges associated with the diversity of the public service workforce, which is not solely office-based.

AAFC has implemented measures to anticipate and, where possible, prevent issues with pay and any resulting hardship. Each pay period, the pay liaison team analyzes low payment reports to identify potential financial hardship and proactively offer assistance, as required. It also monitors potential pay issues through ongoing reconciliation between Phoenix and departmental financial and human resources systems. Enhanced verification processes have been implemented for all information entered in the human resources system that triggers pay actions in Phoenix to minimize risks to pay caused by human error.

AAFC has been issuing priority payments where technical problems or processing delays result in gaps in basic pay or where financial hardship conditions exist. Since the inception of Phoenix in February 2016, the Department has issued 681 emergency salary advances.

In support of the government-wide claims process, AAFC implemented a timely process to reimburse employees for costs associated with inaccurate or untimely pay and for tax advisory services.

In April 2017, AAFC reassumed critical pay functions related to Leave without Pay, Return from Leave, and Terminations, which have enabled us to start and stop pay sooner for employees.

Managers are regularly reminded of their roles and responsibilities in ensuring timely and accurate pay for their employees, including the need to actively manage Phoenix transactions and HR actions that impact pay. Processes have been put in place to prompt managers by identifying for them all actions that potentially require attention.

Given the importance of students to our current and future success, AAFC has made significant efforts to ensure that our students are paid correctly and on-time through proactive monitoring and coordination with managers and the Public Service Pay Centre.

Communications and awareness

AAFC proactively made Phoenix training--offered through the Canada School of Public Service- mandatory for all delegated managers, Finance authorizers, and Human Resources employees responsible for data entry. Employees were also strongly encouraged to complete the Phoenix overview training. Additional training and quick reference tools have been developed and delivered, as required, to supplement centrally developed tools and online courses.

Public Service and Procurement Canada (PSPC) tools are widely promoted within AAFC and, where required, additional tools have been developed to further meet the needs of our managers and employees, including factsheets and step-by-step instructions for critical pay actions.

Phoenix and pay processing information is broadly communicated using the Department's weekly bulletin, targeted communications to highly impacted audiences, and regular engagement with governance bodies and employee networks across AAFC. Participation in national and various local union-management meetings also increases awareness of issues, priorities, and activities underway to address the ongoing pay-related challenges.

The intranet is updated on a regular basis so that employees and managers have access to the necessary information, tools, and resources so that they know where to go for assistance on issues related to Phoenix, pay and benefits, or Pay Centre process requirements.

Supporting government-wide efforts

In addition to being a very active contributor in various governance forums and public service-level consultation committees with bargaining agents, AAFC has contributed to PSPC efforts by lending expertise to system and user acceptance testing, placing approximately 10 former employees at the satellite pay offices in Gatineau and Winnipeg and loaning a business analyst for three months to support government-wide efforts to determine the root causes of 29 critical pay issues.

Looking ahead

AAFC continues to review its service model and adjust resources, as required, to ensure ongoing support to employees. This includes examining how we can best support vulnerable groups, including employees going on maternity leave, returning from long-term leave, and those approaching retirement.

The Department will also continue to promote awareness of the roles and responsibilities and target communications and new, mandatory Phoenix training for employees and managers.

AAFC remains committed to the Government's collective efforts to address ongoing pay issues and will continue to prioritize their resolution.

Sincerely,

Chris Forbes

c.c.: The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, PC, MP
Nada Semaan, Associate Deputy Minister, AAFC
Les Linklater, Associate Deputy Minister, PSPC
Yaprak Baltacmglu, Secretary of the Treasury Board
Catrina Tapley, Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet (Operations), Privy Council Office

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