Archived: Government of Canada update on the Phoenix pay system for 24 August, 2016
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Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us once again for an update on our progress towards fixing public service pay problems.
As I explained at previous briefings, pay issues have been categorized into three priority groups: 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.
Starting with our Priority 1 employees, we continue to see a steady decline in the number of new cases reported. Since our last update, we have received 69 new reports of employees not receiving any pay. While still a concern, these cases represent a small fraction of the public service population. Our goal is to eliminate all pay problems, but it is important to acknowledge that the complexity of public service pay and the opportunities for human error mean that the potential for pay issues will always be present. That was the case prior to the implementation of Phoenix. The hope is that through the pay transformation initiative, including the implementation of Phoenix, there will be fewer pay issues than before once we reach our steady state.
Priority 1 cases are normally 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, payments are made the following pay period.
At the last briefing, I reported that we had 274 employees who were not receiving any pay, 197 of whom we said would be paid on August 24. A total of 245 employees were paid today, and the rest will be paid on September 7.
I want to remind employees 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.
Since the technical briefing, we have received 314 cases in this category. We were able to resolve 1,696 and have a remaining 1,264 cases. Employees reporting these types of issues can expect to receive missing pay within six weeks, but we are seeing many cases resolved much sooner.
The Priority 3 group is the backlog. As I have stated, these cases involve supplementary pay such as extra duty pay, acting assignments and promotions.
On July 18, we indicated that the backlog represented about 82,000 employees. As of today, we have resolved 8,032 of these cases, leaving 73,965. We are progressively increasing the number of cases being addressed, and, moving into September, we expect to make a significant dent in the backlog as additional resources join our temporary pay units.
We remain committed to resolving the backlog by October 31. With the resources we are adding to our pay units, we believe this goal is achievable, but a lot depends on the pace at which the compensation advisors join us, how quickly they get up to speed and the complexity of each case, which we don’t know until we examine an employee’s specific file.
I also want to be clear that we will likely see priority one and two cases emerge after our October 31 target. As I said earlier, the complexity of public service pay and the opportunities for human error mean that the potential for pay issues will always be present. That was the case prior to the implementation of Phoenix. However, efforts to enhance how we work with the Phoenix system and how departments and agencies interact with the pay centre will keep new issues to a minimum. For example, compensation advisors from several departments have been or will be on site in our pay units to help address specific pay issues related to some of our more complex pay scenarios, such as for nurses and correctional officers.
Similarly, we are working closely with departments such as Fisheries and Oceans Canada and National Defence to address unique challenges, and progress has been made on those fronts. In addition, we continue to have discussions with union representatives to know what they are hearing from their members and collaborate on opportunities to help employees successfully use Phoenix.
Satellite offices and call centre status
As a reminder, temporary units are located in Gatineau, Winnipeg, Shawinigan and Montréal.
Currently, there are 106 employees working in the Gatineau Temporary Pay Unit, and 32 are expected to join over the next few weeks.
So far, we have 17 employees working in our Shawinigan office, 31 in our Winnipeg office, with 22 expected to join over the next few weeks, and 15 expected to join our Montréal office in early September.
Our call centre in Toronto continues to triage employee pay issues to ensure employees are able to speak to someone quickly and to allow Miramichi to focus on processing cases.
About 1,600 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 pay issues they are experiencing, including issues with deductions or benefits.
Executive performance pay
I’d like to take a moment now to address the topic of executive performance pay. Every year, across government, performance commitments are established for executives. At the end of the year, these commitments are assessed against achievements to determine an executive’s performance pay.
Recently, there have been questions about whether or not executives involved in the implementation of Phoenix will receive performance pay this year. I want to emphasize that our priority is getting people paid and our efforts are focused on getting Phoenix implementation issues addressed, not on executive performance pay. As I said before, we will be conducting an evaluation of this initiative which will inform decisions on a number of fronts.
It is important to recognize that the pay transformation initiative has been a priority throughout government for many years. The numerous employees working on this initiative are strongly committed to seeing the project succeed. They continue to work very hard to ensure that their colleagues across government have a reliable and effective pay system. To allege otherwise is unfounded and unfair.
I mentioned last week that, as we make progress on resolving pay issues, we are turning our attention to addressing underlying causes.
I’ve talked about the need for additional and targeted training and education. In addition to developing training tools for employees, a dedicated team including Phoenix experts will be visiting departments and agencies to hold focused training sessions. These sessions are intended for employees working in human resources and will help address some of the issues that are surfacing most frequently. This includes, for example, how to correctly enter information for actings, new hires and students so that the right information flows through to Phoenix.
We are also looking at making technical and process enhancements that will help address some of the pay issues we are experiencing. There is a constant flow of requests coming into the Pay Centre, and right now we are not processing transactions as quickly as we will once we reach our steady state. We are addressing this by ironing out technical issues as they arise and looking for opportunities to enhance our processes.
For example, we are working with IBM and pay specialists to identify ways to help our pay advisors more easily and efficiently process payments. These specialists will be working at the Miramichi Pay Centre to study how pay requests move through the system and how various types of transactions are processed. We want to see if there are processes, activities or practices that can be modified to streamline the handling of pay requests. Our goal is to make it easier for our pay advisors to get pay flowing to their colleagues across the government.
We are also working to ensure that the system is ready to handle upcoming pay events. For instance, we’ve successfully tested and are ready to receive automated payroll deductions for this year’s charitable campaign, deductions that start in January 2017. It is important to note that Phoenix is already processing deductions from last year’s campaign.
As well, we will introduce additional automation in the fall to prepare for changes stemming from re-negotiated collective agreements.
Finally, employees will see additional self-serve options in early September, such as being able to view the status of their pay requests online. This means that employees will no longer need to call the pay centre for updates.
You’ve heard me talk about a steady state, and I want to be clear about what that means. It means reaching a point where we are processing pay requests in an efficient, consistent manner with minimal errors. Work to define this steady state is underway and will include the establishment of clear service standards across government at each critical step of the process. The work we are doing around streamlining activities and re-examining our business processes will help us better define our targets and how we measure them.
Finally, I would like to provide additional information about the claims process and the recovery of payments. We have been working closely with bargaining agents on solutions, and I want to thank them for their time and dedication. We all share the same objective: ensuring that employees who have incurred expenses as a result of inaccurate or incomplete pay do not suffer undue financial hardship.
As you know, we are setting up a distinct claims process for Phoenix-related claims that we aim to have in place in early September. Employees will be able to make claims through their own departments using a common form found on the Phoenix page of the Canada.ca website.
Organizations will be provided with clear direction to handle claims submitted by their employees, and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat will assist departments to ensure we have a consistent and efficient approach for all employees.
Each claim will be considered on its individual merits and settled based on valid receipts and other supporting documents. As such, it is very important for employees to keep track of their out-of-pocket expenses and all supporting documentation, including receipts.
We are still fine-tuning this process, as well as instructions and tools. We will continue providing information about this process to employees and their organizations in the coming days and weeks, as it becomes available.
But I can tell you that the process will cover claims arising for out-of-pocket expenses, such as financial penalties resulting from missed or late payments.
I am pleased that my colleague Bill Matthews, Comptroller General of Canada, is here today, should you have more detailed questions on that process.
The claims process may also compensate employees facing tax implications directly resulting from the implementation of Phoenix.
To that end, we are working closely with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to determine which tax situations would be covered by the claims process.
The CRA has also posted information about certain tax situations on its website, and that it is providing telephone support through a toll-free hotline.
As previously mentioned, we are setting up a process for employees to repay any salary overpayments in a fair and equitable manner. This means that we will recover overpayments over multiple pay periods.
Again, I want our employees to know that we are working hard to make sure they are paid what they are owed in a timely manner. I am very pleased progress is being made, but, as I said earlier, we know we still have a lot of work to do. We understand employees’ frustrations, and we are fully committed to addressing their pay issues fairly and as quickly as possible.
Thank you once again for joining me today. We will continue to provide updates as we move forward.
Marie Lemay, P.Eng., ing.
Public Services and Procurement Canada
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