Archived: Government of Canada update on the Phoenix pay system for 7 September, 2016

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Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for joining us once again for our regular update on our progress towards fixing public service pay problems.

Let me start by saying to public servants that the pay issues we are currently experiencing are unacceptable and we are working very hard and are committed to resolving them.

Priority groups

I'd like to begin by telling you that over 293,000 public servants were paid today.

Now let me provide you with an update on our priority groups.

Our Priority 1 cases include employees who contacted us to report they have not received any pay. Since our last briefing, we've received 59 newly reported cases of employees who had no pay but should have received pay. All have either been paid today or will be on next pay day.

Our Priority 2 cases are employees whose pay has been affected because they are going on leave or exiting the public service. We have 335 new cases since our last briefing. Typically, these cases take between 4 to 6 weeks to resolve, we are working to address them as quickly as we can.

It's important to note that we expect to see increases and decreases in our Priority 1 and 2 cases over time. As much as we want to get them to zero, we believe we will always have a relatively low number of pay issues, given the constant movement of employees into, within and out of the public service, as well as the complexity of public service pay. This was the case before the implementation of Phoenix, however the decentralized nature of pay at that time meant it was impossible to clearly see how many issues were present or how effectively they were being resolved. Over time, a baseline level of pay issues will emerge, and the important point will be to keep these cases to a minimum and to detect and address them as quickly as we can.

And on that note, I want to remind employees again that they can request emergency salary advances, either internally through their department, or by using our Phoenix feedback form. These payments can be issued within 24 to 48 hours, and anyone having difficulty getting them can contact us through our feedback form for assistance.

The Priority 3 group is the backlog, where employees are receiving their regular pay, but are missing supplementary pay such as extra duty pay, acting assignments and promotions.

Since we started reporting on our progress in July, we've increased the number of cases addressed incrementally. In July, we processed about 1,500 cases per pay period, and since then we've seen steady increases, resolving 2,000 cases in early August and then 3,000 during the last pay period. Since then, we've more than doubled our processing rate, completing 6,500 cases. As of today, we have resolved approximately 14,500 of these cases, leaving a backlog of 67,500. We can attribute this incremental increase in resolving cases to the number of employees we have in our pay units and to the amount of time it takes them to become fully operational. So let me explain what we are doing in our satellite offices to make sure we reach our October 31 target.

Satellite offices

Currently, there are 120 employees working in the Gatineau office, and 33 are expected to join over the next few weeks. We are now aiming to reach a total of 250 employees to help address the backlog.

As for the other satellite offices, our Shawinigan, Winnipeg and Montreal offices now have 96 employees for a total of 216.

It is important to note that it takes several weeks to get new compensation advisors fully up to speed. This means an increase in the number of advisors doesn't result in an immediate increase in the number of transactions addressed. The number of people we hire, the speed with which advisors become fully trained and proficient and the complexity of each pay file will determine how quickly we progress. The good news is that we are starting to see our satellite units becoming more operational and processing more transactions daily. This is why we believe the bulk of the transactions in the backlog will be addressed between the end of September and the end of October, which is when we will have the majority of our compensation advisors processing cases at full capacity. The graph on the screen shows our projected backlog progress.

We have said we will keep the satellite offices open as long as we need to. Our plan is to have these offices help us reach our steady state after the backlog is addressed. In other words, they will remain until we are meeting service standards, our productivity is at optimal levels and Phoenix users are fully proficient.

Our call centre continues to respond to general questions and log employee issues. The centre receives 1200 calls a day on average with a wait time of about 5 seconds.


The increased number of employees in our pay offices is affecting our total costs. When we first set up our satellite office in Gatineau, we only planned to have 100 staff on board.

Since then, we have more than doubled the number of temporary compensation advisors, opened three additional pay units and enhanced our call centre capacity. We have also bolstered our staff in other areas to help streamline our business processes and to better support departments with technical assistance and training.

Right now, we believe Public Service and Procurement Canada's one-time costs for this year will be between $45 and $50 million. (This does not include costs associated with the TBS-led claims process.) This essentially means that for this year, we will not see the full $70 million savings we anticipated to see on a yearly basis as a result of our pay transformation initiative.

I want to be clear that our commitment is to paying our employees. I'm confident we will see savings in future years, but for now, our focus is on getting the pay system right and getting money flowing to employees.

Working with Departments

We continue to work with departments and agencies to help them use Phoenix effectively and to learn about issues related to the pay transformation.

On September 12, my Treasury Board Secretariat colleagues and I will meet again with chief financial officers and heads of HR. These meetings, which will be held regularly, provide opportunities to discuss issues, identify root causes and possible solutions.

We are holding focused information sessions, led by a team of experts, for HR representatives in departments and agencies. We have 14 sessions scheduled in September to address the top three issues identified by users, which are currently:

They will also look at the overall importance of timeliness of entries, as well as tips and tricks for using the system. We held one pilot session last Friday that was well attended and the feedback was very positive. These sessions also help us adjust our training materials and examine needed system enhancements. We will continue reaching out to departments and agencies to ensure they become increasingly more comfortable with the system.

In addition, we are continuously updating information on our website to add various support tools, such as frequently asked questions and technical guidance. This information is refreshed on an ongoing basis so it remains current and tailored to Phoenix users' needs. In addition, we are proactively sending information to our existing networks of departmental HR and Phoenix representatives so they can share information with their colleagues. This should help prevent common issues we are seeing related to improper data input.

Steady state

We continue to move toward our steady state where pay requests are processed in an efficient, consistent manner with minimal errors. This is not a simple process and progress may seem slow, but we are already seeing positive results.

For instance, with the old system, supplementary pay, such as actings, promotions and extra duty pay, could take on average of 55 days to process. When we exclude backlog cases and look at new requests that are being entered into Phoenix, these transactions are now taking up to 15 days in the majority of cases. We expect that this will be the standard as we move towards our steady state.

We still have far too many employees experiencing pay issues, but we can see there are efficiencies to be realized with the new system. Once we move beyond the current challenges we face, we will start to see substantial improvements in our ability to process pay more quickly.

Union collaboration

We also continue to work very closely with bargaining agents on solutions to reach our steady state. I want to reiterate how much we appreciate their time and dedication in meeting our common objective: ensuring that employees are paid.

Work to identify other opportunities for improvement will benefit from a new union/management committee. I am pleased that we will hold the first meeting of our joint committee very soon. The Committee will be co-chaired by my colleague, the Secretary of the Treasury Board, Yaprak Baltacıoğlu, and Robyn Benson of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. It will provide a forum for regular discussions about Phoenix issues and solutions. In addition to being a forum for regular updates, the committee will allow participants to share feedback from employees and discuss potential solutions.

As you know, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat has been working with affected departments, agencies and crown corporations to setup a distinct claims process so employees can be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses. We anticipate that the process will be put in place next week.

Also, as previously mentioned, we are setting up a process for employees to repay any salary overpayments in a fair and equitable manner. This means we will recover overpayments over multiple pay periods, but only once the employee's pay issues are resolved.

Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign

I want to say a few words about the Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign. I attended the launch event this morning, which was a great success, and I am excited to be this year's co-chair. Understandably, concerns have been raised about the potential impact of Phoenix on the campaign.

First, let me just say that Phoenix has been deducting contributions since its implementation without any problems. Second, to be sure there won't be issues with this year's campaign, we have tested the system and have seen no issues for the deductions starting in January 2017 for this year's campaign.

Year after year, public servants have shown they care by supporting the many charitable organizations in their communities. I have every confidence we will once again see tremendous generosity across the government.

Pay Centre

In closing, I want to acknowledge how frustrating and stressful this situation can be for employees who continue to face pay issues. We are working very hard to fix your issues, we are starting to see progress, and numbers are going down. I appreciate your ongoing patience and understanding.

I also want to acknowledge our Pay Centre employees, who are putting in full days and long hours to help their colleagues across government. We are aware that this has been a challenging time for them and are supporting them in all ways possible. I am personally reaching out to them on a regular basis.

Thank you for your continued interest. I am now happy to take your questions.

Marie Lemay, P.Eng., ing.
Deputy Minister
Public Services and Procurement Canada

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