Response from Health 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, suite 332
Ottawa ON K1A 0A3

Dear Mr. Wernick:

Thank you for your correspondence of November 2, 2017, providing me with the opportunity to highlight everything Health Canada has done and will continue to do in order to help stabilize the pay system and ensure our employees are paid accurately and on time. 

Since the outset of this initiative, my staff and I have actively participated in working groups and other governance processes with both Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) and Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) to offer feedback and ideas to improve the situation for all employees. The remainder of this letter covers our key activities to date.

Extensive Pre-Launch Contingency Planning, Establishment of a Dedicated Phoenix Escalation Team & Provision of Specialized Pay Support to Nurses

Recognizing that there were potential challenges associated with the implementation of the new system that could impact our employees, Health Canada undertook significant contingency planning and analysis prior to the rollout, and as a result implemented a number of activities to prepare for pay file transfer and the new system.

As you know, Health Canada has a distributed workforce in locations across Canada including in remote locations. Employees in those remote locations include our nurses who deliver primary health care to First Nations. Their pay files are considerably more complicated than the average pay file and include such items as shift premiums, isolated allowances, and variable schedules. Under the leadership of a seasoned Human Resources (HR) Executive, we created an internal Escalation Team as well as a separate nursing unit to assess compensation related issues and to liaise with the Pay Centre. When it was recognized that the situation for nurses’ pay files was not being adequately addressed, we sent our nursing pay specialist to the Pay Centre for several weeks to help train a small unit in Miramichi. We also worked with our First Nations and Inuit Health Branch management team to establish dedicated “Time Keepers” to alleviate the burden on nurse managers and nurses for managing complex schedules. We also worked with PSPC to help them build satellite capacity, recreating our former compensation unit in Shawinigan for their use.

Clear Processes for Emergency Advances, Priority Payments & Reimbursements

My staff in HR and Finance worked closely together from the outset to establish a simple process to provide emergency salary advances, and as per TBS direction, priority payments and reimbursements for eligible costs incurred by employees.

Extensive and Dedicated Communications with Staff

Since the initial rollout of Phoenix, we have made it a priority to communicate regularly with all staff and through a variety of channels.  I have personally sent emails department-wide, and made it a practice to follow up directly with any employee who contacts me with a pay issue. I have reinforced the importance of training and raising any pay issues to our Escalation Team at town halls, through my blog, and with my executive team.  My ADM of Corporate Services and the DG of HR have also engaged employees at all levels both in-person and via email, providing updates, reminders of processes, and sharing the key messages provided by PSPC and OCHRO. We have also created posters reminding employees of the ways to get help on pay issues; these are displayed in our buildings across the country including our nursing stations. We have also kept our bargaining agents informed of the steps we have taken and resources available, so that they can update their members.

Systematic Training

Health Canada has worked hard to ensure that employees and managers have the necessary training and understand their roles. We have created a series of tools and training materials to ensure our managers and employees are equipped with proper expertise to carry out the new roles conferred upon them with the arrival of the new pay system. Our team developed a number of guides on Phoenix and associated pay processes, including how to establish schedules and approve leave and overtime, as well as comprehensive guidelines for Trusted Sources and the Escalation Team. We have also conducted in-person and WebEx training on completing Pay Action Request (PAR) forms with the aim of reducing our rejection rates, complemented by an online how-to video, and are preparing to roll out new sessions on understanding pay stubs. Much of what we have prepared has been shared with PSPC as well.

Dedicated Data Collection, Sharing & Analysis

In terms of tracking and reporting on progress of pay issues and on issues requiring additional attention, we have a strong analytics team in place who review all incoming TBS dashboards and PSPC reports, ranging from reports on active or closed cases, to outstanding section 34 approvals, to PAR rejections, to overpayments. In addition to our Department’s participation in all of the centrally led interdepartmental committees, we have our own regularly scheduled weekly calls with key partners at PSPC to exchange information on our in-house pay team and many client groups. Specifically with respect to nurses, we hold weekly calls with both the Pay Centre’s lead for their dedicated nurse pay team and our Health Canada nurse managers. We have held town hall meetings on pay with nurses as well as with other groups of employees. Additionally, I am provided detailed weekly pay updates on all of our activities as well as on the latest developments from central agencies.

Set-up, as a Pilot Project, of In-House Health Canada Phoenix Processing Centre

In May 2017, Health Canada took the initiative of signing a Memorandum of Understanding with PSPC to set up our own in-house team of Compensation Advisors to directly process a number of pay transactions for our employees. The transactions selected for in-house processing all represented difficult pain points for our employees  and, in addition to providing faster resolution of issues for our employees, this initiative has also reduced workload for the Pay Centre, allowing more time to work on backlog and more complex cases. Since the launch of our pilot project in May 2017, our in-house team has processed over 1,500 transactions. We are currently expanding our pilot to include more Compensation Advisors and transactions to be processed, representing an investment by Health Canada of an additional $1.7 million annually and 21 FTEs.

Conclusion & Next Steps

Thanks again for the opportunity to provide you with this input, and please know that you can count on my commitment to continue to make supporting pay stabilization a top priority. As we have done over the past two years, Health Canada is prepared to make additional investments when it is determined that they will contribute to resolving pay issues for of our employees, and we will continue to exchange best practices with other departments and with PSPC and TBS.

With my best regards,

Simon Kennedy

c.c.: Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, M.P., P.C.
Les Linklater, Associate Deputy Minister, Public Services and Procurement Canada
Yaprak Baltacıoğlu, Secretary of the Treasury Board
Catrina Tapley, Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet (Operations), Privy Council Office

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