Backlog of problems with federal Phoenix pay system bigger than ever: union

OTTAWA — Three unions are calling on the government to provide additional compensation to federal public servants, as issues with the Phoenix pay system continue.

Eight years after the system was launched, the number of unresolved problems has piled up to 444,000.

Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said in an interview that "we've never seen this many cases in the backlog."

Federal public service unions said in a press release Tuesday the standard waiting period for payroll problems to be addressed is two years.

PSAC, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees want the federal government to negotiate an extension of earlier agreements to compensate public servants for damages.

"The pay problems haven't stopped," Aylward said. "Every single pay week, we still have pay problems, and we're years out from getting a new pay system."

Aylward said his union negotiated an earlier agreement that gave members a $2,500 settlement for problems that happened between 2016 and 2020.

"Basically, we're saying it's time for us to negotiate another set of damages for the last four years."

Aylward said public servants are continuing to experience the same problems as they did in earlier years. "Not a whole lot has changed."

While there aren't many cases of people who aren't getting paid at all, PSAC members are still being overpaid or underpaid, and it takes two years for someone's pay file to catch up if they move departments or agencies, he said.

"(For) somebody that's contemplating retirement, that can be a real nightmare, not knowing whether my pension is going to be correct or not because of the pay issues," he said. "There's a lot of anxiety out there for sure."

The Phoenix system is "still a mess," he said.

"When the federal government can't pay its own employees properly and on time, there has to be consequences for that."

Aylward also criticized the government for focusing on claiming overpayments before the expiry of a six-year limitation period, a push that began in 2022.

Employers began asking PSAC members to repay hundreds dollars from years earlier — but without being able to explain why the overpayment occurred or even what paycheque it was on.

"Yet they expect our members just to sign on the dotted line to say yes, I owe you this money," Aylward said.

Aylward called for the government to hire more compensation advisors and for them to receive proper training.

There are problems with recruitment and retention of advisors who are "trying to work with a broken system," and the government should do more to recruit and retain them, he said.

Phoenix was introduced in 2016, and was supposed to consolidate dozens of separate and antiquated pay systems. The idea was it would save the government millions annually, but instead resulted in massive upheaval.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2024.

Anja Karadeglija, The Canadian Press