A new Phoenix pay system update shows there remain 54,000 open cases related to collective agreements yet to be processed, signalling the lingering backlog will probably continue for several months.
There were 335,000 cases beyond normal workload reported as of Nov. 29, meaning a total of 589,000 open cases are waiting to be processed, according to updated figures from the Public Service Pay Centre released Friday. Up 70,000 cases from the 265,000 cases beyond normal workload reported Oct. 18, this is the fourth month of consecutive increases. Normal workload for the pay centre is 80,000 cases, and about half of the government’s 300,000 employees are experiencing a pay issue.
The government has been placing the backlog blame on the implementation of 20 of the 27 core federal public service collective agreements since early fall, with Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough (Delta, B.C.) saying the backlog would start to decline in the new year.
“It’s historic that our government was able to negotiate 20 collective agreements in less than two years out of the 27 that have expired,” she told reporters on the Hill Nov. 1. When the Liberals assumed power, all 27 agreements had expired.
Between Oct. 18 and Nov. 29, the pay centre received 132,000 cases, and processed 106,000, as well as staff processing the 21,000 collective agreement cases.
Ms. Qualtrough testified at the House Government and Operations Committee on Nov. 28, saying she wa hopeful public servants would receive correct pay by December 2018.
The previous Conservative government decided to move to the Phoenix pay system to centralize payroll for federal public servants, but since the Liberals implemented it a year and a half ago it has left many employees overpaid, underpaid, or not paid at all. The system was supposed to save the government $70-million per year, but so far the government has sunk in $400-million to fix it. Originally the government promised to have the backlog of pay issues resolved in October 2016. Experts think the cost to fix the system will be significantly more time and money than planned.
The project included two parts: that the government replace its existing system with off-the-shelf payroll software configured to government human resources systems, and that compensation advisers for 44 government departments be centralized at the Public Service Pay Centre in Miramichi, N.B.
Between Oct. 18 and Nov. 29, 21,000 collective agreement cases were processed, slightly down from the 27,000 cases processed between Sept. 20 and Oct. 18. It will likely be mid-January or February before the 54,000 cases are cleared, however, this could be longer if more collective agreements are signed in the meantime. There are seven collective agreements still to be reached, including diplomats and federal lawyers.
Processing collective agreements turned out to be more time-consuming than originally planned, said an explanatory note on the Public Service Pay Centre dashboard—a government website tracking the Phoenix backlog. The agreements often involve retroactive pay stretching back to 2014, meaning compensation advisers have to manually access data from the government’s old pay system.
Meanwhile the two largest public sector unions, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), have filed complaints and policy grievances with the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board for the missed collective agreement deadlines. Employers have a minimum of 90 days to implement the agreements after they have been signed, but the two parties negotiated longer ones due to the problem-plagued Phoenix system.
“The employer…should have planned for any possible delays due to Phoenix by hiring more compensation advisers,” PSAC national president Robyn Benson said in the statement on Dec. 11.
The backlog increased by 8,000 cases between Sept. 20 and Oct. 18, detailed in the previous update. The government blames the bump in the backlog on the fact this update had three pay periods over the previous two; and they determined 44,000 transactions already at the pay centre to have financial impact, meaning they affected the amount someone was being paid.
The backlog started out this summer getting smaller—between June and the end of July, the backlog had decreased by 37,000 cases to 228,000. In August the number began creeping up again to 237,000.
Of the 589,000 cases waiting to be processed, 415,000 cases were found to have financial impact, which included both those that were within and beyond the normal workload. It also reported 90,000 cases with no financial impact, such as general inquiries or name change requests, as well as the 54,000 collective agreement cases. There are also 30,000 cases waiting to be closed, although the update doesn’t specify what that means.
As well, pay transaction data is collected from 35 of the 53 departments and agencies not covered by the Public Service Pay Centre, as they have compensation advisers in their own departments. Organizations with fewer than 50 employees, as well as Institutions, Officers and Agents of Parliament, are not required to report their findings. On Nov. 29 the government received pay data from 27 of the 35 departments and agencies, covering 90,000 employees.
These 27 organizations reported just under 30,000 transactions greater than 30 days old, for approximately 18,000 employees. These cases are not necessarily pay problems, said an explanatory note.
With the update comes more bad news for processing times: during the current period, the percentage of non-collective bargaining transactions meeting service standards decreased slightly to 41 per cent. In the October update it was 60 per cent, and the target is 95 per cent.
“We expect the percentage of transactions that meet service standards to continue to fluctuate as the implementation of collective agreements continues,” said the website.
The Hill Times
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the tentative collective agreement reached between NAV Canada and the Canadian Federal Pilots Association is not one of the 27 core federal public service collective agreements. Although most CFPA members work for Transport Canada, about 40 members of the union work for NAV Canada and are under a separate agreement.