Archived: Government of Canada update on the Phoenix pay system for 11 August, 2016
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Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us.
I am pleased to provide an update on our progress since our last technical briefing on July 28.
You have heard me say this before, but I want our employees to know that we are working very hard to make sure people are paid what they are owed.
We are making progress on fixing pay problems, but we also see new cases emerging. We expect that this will keep happening, but should continue to diminish as we identify and resolve root causes.
Today I will provide an update on pay issues we’ve resolved, new employee cases that have been reported and the measures we are taking to respond to this situation.
As I explained at previous briefings, pay problems have been prioritized into three categories: Priority 1 includes employees not receiving any pay (such as new hires, students and those returning from leave without pay); Priority 2 includes employees whose pay has been affected because they are going on leave (such as maternity or long-term leave) or leaving the public service; and Priority 3 includes our backlogged cases.
Before I get into the details of our progress, I think it is important to know that yesterday 296,470 employees received their regular paycheque, and that over 25,000 additional transactions for overtime, acting and so on were processed.
I will now provide an update on our priority groups, starting with the Priority 1 group: employees not receiving any pay.
Since our last update, we’ve received 274 new reports of employees not receiving any pay. These cases will be addressed within two pay periods. When we have accurate and complete information, payment can be made during the next available pay period. However, when information is missing, payment may slip to the following pay period.
For example, at the last briefing, I told you we had 589 employees who reported not receiving any pay. We were able to pay 424 of them, plus an additional 139 from the previous pay period, yesterday (August 10).
I want to remind employees who are missing any pay that they can request emergency salary advances, either internally through their department or by using our Phoenix Feedback Form.
The Priority 2 group consists of those whose pay has been affected by going on leave or exiting the public service, such as maternity or parental leave and retirements.
In mid-July, we reported 1,100 of those cases, and we received an additional 926 at the end of July and 620 since then, for a total of 2,646 cases. We’ve addressed 1,182 of them. Generally, employees reporting these types of issues can expect to have their case addressed within six weeks, but our goal is to get through these cases sooner if possible.
The Priority 3 group is the backlog. Broadly speaking, these cases involve supplementary pay such as extra duty pay, acting assignments and promotions.
On July 18, we indicated that the backlog represented 81,997 employees. At the last briefing, it was down to 78,955, and, as of today, it is 76,951. Since July 18, we’ve addressed the pay issues of over 5,000 employees. Our progress will accelerate as we train additional compensation advisors in our pay hubs, so we expect our backlog to quickly shrink as of September. We are still on track to address all of the backlogged cases by October 31.
Without diminishing the importance of resolving the backlog, it is important to re-emphasize that these are employees who are receiving their regular paycheque, but are missing additional amounts such as acting pay, extra duty pay and/or salary increment adjustments.
Satellite offices and call centre status
The pay hubs we’ve put in place across Canada, including in Gatineau, Winnipeg, Shawinigan and Montréal, are focused on backlogged cases.
Currently there are 92 employees working in the Gatineau Temporary Pay Unit, and 37 are expected to join over the next weeks.
We are setting up other offices and planning to have 50 employees in Winnipeg, 20 in Shawinigan, and 20 in Montréal. So far, we have 12 employees working in our Shawinigan office, and 16 in our Winnipeg office. We are working on finalizing the recruitment to meet our targets for all of these offices.
I want to thank the Public Service Alliance of Canada for its help in recruiting these additional employees.
At the last technical briefing, I mentioned that we were enhancing our call centre capacity by opening a new location in Toronto to ensure employees are able to speak to someone quickly and to allow Miramichi to focus on processing cases.
The call centre is helping triage employee pay issues. About 2,100 calls are being handled a day, with no wait times.
I want to encourage employees to use our call centre or our online form to report issues.
Training and education
As I’ve mentioned before, an obstacle to the smooth transition to Phoenix has been the fact that we underestimated the time and effort we should have dedicated to getting employees familiar with the system.
For example, while the system is highly automated, employees need to enter their own data to request overtime and leave, and managers must then approve these requests in the system.
We have to ensure public servants get the training they need to make Phoenix work for them. It is important to understand that some training material was and still is available, which was tested and validated through a network of managers. However, it is clear that we must review this material to better support managers. Work is underway to develop more appropriate training, a user support strategy, and tools that target the most common issues, in line with feedback we receive from employees and managers.
I am pleased to announce that we will create a feedback forum of employees and managers from across departments who will be invited to help review and validate our training material. We will leverage some established groups, such as the national managers’ and youth networks, the My GCHR working group, regional representatives, as well as our colleagues at the Canada School of Public Service and the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, to participate in the forum.
We are also meeting regularly with the chief financial officer and human resources communities to share information and provide tools to support professionals in these areas with their use of the system.
Expense reimbursement and tax implications
Over the last several weeks, employees have asked if they will be reimbursed for costs related to pay issues and have raised concerns about the recovery of overpayments and tax implications.
Employees who have incurred expenses as a result of not being paid properly should not suffer undue financial hardship.
The Government will set up a claims process to compensate employees for the out-of-pocket expenses incurred due to issues related to Phoenix. This will include establishing a consistent approach across government organizations to deal with compensation claims. Our target to launch the claims process is early September.
We are also taking action to reduce the financial strain associated with the recovery of overpayments. Normally, when a recovery is made, the established process is that the full amount is taken from the next paycheque in full. To decrease the burden caused by this process, we will spread out repayments over multiple pay periods.
On the question of tax implications, we are working to correct pay issues quickly; however, I understand that many public servants are concerned that the pay issues they’ve experienced will complicate their 2016 taxes.
To help alleviate these concerns, the Canada Revenue Agency is introducing information on its website to provide answers to frequently asked questions regarding this issue. It will also set up an information line (1‑800 number) for employees who have questions about potential implications.
We continue to identify and make system adjustments and enhancements to improve the operation of Phoenix.
Given the complexity of the system, we expect the need for these refinements to continue for the near future.
We are collaborating closely with departments, who are helping us identify system and business process issues that are creating challenges for them.
Addressing root causes
Our commitment is to resolve employee pay issues. As we continue to make progress on that front, we are turning to the identification and analysis of the root causes. We want to ensure that the problems we are solving today don’t reappear down the road.
It is important that we understand the full scope of the issues employees and managers are facing so that we can make improvements, both in terms of technical and business process changes.
For example, we know that onboarding of employees, including students, requires particular attention.
We will also reach out to the National Managers’ Community and other communities so that we can obtain additional feedback about users’ experience with Phoenix. These measures will ensure that we are providing practical support and allow us to collect valuable intelligence about system use and future improvements.
We have also been holding daily calls with departments, during which issues are flagged and addressed, ensuring we are aware of any problems encountered by departments in using Phoenix. Also, we are holding regular meetings with human resources and finance teams in departments.
To keep everyone informed, we will continue to update you every two weeks and post information on our website. Moving forward, these updates will occur on paydays, so that we can provide the latest information about payments as soon as we have it.
Before I conclude, I want to remind employees to report their pay issues quickly so that we can help as soon as possible.
We continue to see information in the media about unnamed employees who are experiencing pay problems. I have two concerns with this. First, we can’t help if we don’t know who you are, so please call us or contact us through our online form. I would ask all of you here today to please ensure that any employees who contact you are made aware of these important channels.
Second, I have heard that employees are worried about reprisals for coming forward about their pay problems. This is very concerning. Your pay is your right, and no one should feel intimidated about voicing concerns. So please contact us to address any pay issues.
I understand that this situation is causing stress for employees, including those who are working extra hard to process payments at our Miramichi Pay Centre. Employees should speak to their manager to ensure they have the support that they need.
In addition to financial help, employees can contact their departmental employee assistance program for support.
In conclusion, I want to thank the employees in the various pay centres and in the call centre for their hard work and dedication.
Marie Lemay, P.Eng., ing.
Public Services and Procurement Canada
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