Phoenix Pay System Loses its Foote-ing

Dysfunctional computer programs, bureaucratic confusion and mistakes that are projected to take more than a year to fix.

It’s like something out of the Terry Gilliam film Brazil.

The Phoenix pay system, which combines multiple pre-existing pay systems into one monolithic one, was supposedly implemented to simplify the paying of federal employees. But since its launch, it has done anything but.

The problems started in July of last year as federal workers noticed that their paychecks had dramatically shrank, increased, or in some cases were nonexistent.

And after 12 months, progress is still incremental, moving along at a sluggish, near stagnant pace.

How slow?

Though officials are noting that parental leave pay requests by public servants are now being reviewed at a normal rate, the same cannot be said of other requests made by federal workers. For instance, disability pay requests are being handled at a snail’s pace, and there is roughly a three-month backlog on pay transactions.(1)

The federal government is now facing more than 2,000 grievances related to the Phoenix Pay fiasco.

In late May, the federal government announced that it will spend $142 million during the next two years to hire 200 temporary workers to assist the 300 that have previously been hired to handle the pay system’s failures.

Those still affected range from Carleton students – who are waiting to have their pay corrected from last summer’s seasonal job – to Nunavut civil servants who are unable to access their northern isolation pay.

One seasonal civil servant is concerned that she will face even more pay problems now that she is about to go back to her job.

Despite the crippling paycheque problems that are affecting workers, the bureaucrats responsible for Phoenix remain unaffected by their catastrophic mistakes.

In early April, documents released in the House of Commons revealed that 340 Public Services and Procurement (PSPC) executives received nearly $5 million in bonuses and performance pay in the past fiscal year.

This does not include the general wage increases that were scheduled to come into effect on January 1.

In response to this, Judy Foote (Minister of Public Services and Procurement) argued that four senior executives that had been overseeing the pay program “are still working on it” and that “none of them received any executive bonus pay.” When asked whether they were fired or simply working in another department, Foote only commented further that they are not “working with the department.”

The day after her comments were reported on outside of the House of Commons, a news release from the Prime Minister’s Office stated that Foote would be taking a leave of absence, and that she “will be away until further notice for personal and family reasons.” Up until now, Jim Carr has filled in for the interim, and there are only now rumours of her returning to her position.

Despite there being thousands who have been gravely affected by the Phoenix failures, many of the bureaucrats to be blamed for the mess have gone without much in the way of discipline. Only after an entire year of confusion is the government bringing in more employees to handle the backlog.

This represents a year of people putting their lives on hold, to receive the money that they should have been paid months ago.

Those which the government chooses to neglect are not prospective projects, but human beings, whose lives have been dramatically affected by their lack of proper pay.

“You had women who are unable to get their maternity leave paid. You have families who were unable to pay their mortgages. You have students who worked all summer who didn’t get paid and were unable to pay their tuition come fall,” NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said. “And these people are now getting bonuses? I mean, come on, it makes no sense.”

(1) Ottawa Life has received this update from Nicolas Boucher / Media Relations for SPAC / PSPC: Our Deputy Minister Marie Lemay indicated in the last Government of Canada update on Phoenix pay system on June 2, 2017that we have reached the steady state for parental and disability leave transactions. What this means is that we are processing all transactions related to disability 95% of the time within our 20 days service standard.