Phoenix pay problems drop slightly; bigger decline unlikely until late spring

March backlog included 377,000 cases that went beyond the pay centre’s normal monthly workload

The backlog of problem pay files created by the federal government’s Phoenix pay system fell slightly in March — the second straight monthly decline, figures released Friday show.

But a significant decline in the backlog isn’t expected for some time, warned Public Services and Procurement Canada, the department that oversees the troubled pay system for nearly 300,000 civil servants.

The central pay centre in Miramichi, N.B., was still dealing with 625,000 transactions as of March 21, the department said — down from a peak of about 633,000 transactions that were awaiting processing in late January.

“This decrease is promising, but with additional work left to do on overpayments and collective agreements, a continual decline is not expected until later this spring,” the department said on its website.

The March backlog included 377,000 cases that went beyond the pay centre’s normal monthly workload of 80,000 pay transactions.

The percentage of pay transactions that were processed by the pay centre within the government’s own self-prescribed service standard grew to 59 per cent, up from 51 per cent in late February. However, that rate is also expected to fluctuate as the April 30 income tax filing deadline draws near.

READ MORE: Federal workers rally for immediate action on Phoenix pay system

READ MORE: Progress on fixing Phoenix pay system backlog could be short-lived, Ottawa says

Today’s new figures follow a survey, commissioned by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, that suggests more than 80 per cent of federal workers have been impacted by Phoenix — severely, in the case of nearly 20 per cent of respondents.

“Phoenix has clearly had a devastating effect on the mental health and well-being of federal public service workers,” said PSAC national president Robyn Benson.

“Employees deserve compensation for the stress and anguish Phoenix has caused for more than two years, as well as the time they have spent dealing with their pay problems.”

The 17 unions representing federal employees have called on Ottawa to pay “damages” for the stress and financial burdens caused by Phoenix. Talks with union officials have been ongoing since the Trudeau government opened the door to compensation in its February budget, although neither the unions nor the Treasury Board Secretariat, which is overseeing the talks, have revealed the extent of the demands.

The survey results were similar to findings of a wider-ranging poll conducted by the government in 2017, which found about one in three respondents reporting that “pay or compensation issues cause stress at work to a large or very large extent,” a Treasury Board spokesman said in an email.

“The poll commissioned by PSAC reflects what we already know about the impact of compensation issues on employee and workplace well-being,” said the email.

Later this spring, an auditor general’s report is expected to take a deeper dive into the causes of the Phoenix pay debacle.

Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

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