The Public Service Pay Centre in Miramichi, N.B. (Ron Ward/The Canadian Press)

Progress on fixing Phoenix pay system backlog could be short-lived: Ottawa

Feds have said they won’t try to recover money overpaid until all outstanding issues are fixed

The federal government offered a temporary glimmer of hope Friday to employees suffering through serious pay issues as it moved ahead in talks with civil service unions toward a settlement for the “undue stress and hardships” caused by its troubled Phoenix pay system.

Figures released by Public Services and Procurement Canada, which oversees the beleaguered system, suggest a long-awaited reprieve from the ever-growing backlog of problems created since Phoenix was brought online just over two years ago.

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

There were about 626,000 transactions awaiting processing at the government’s pay centre in Miramichi, N.B., as of Feb. 21, the department said on its web-based pay dashboard.

But while that’s fewer than the peak of 633,000 problem pay files reached in January, the decline may be short-lived, PSPC warned.

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

The latest backlog figures were released just days after Ottawa said it would no longer try to recover money overpaid to its employees until all of their outstanding pay issues have been resolved, and only if their paycheques were correct for at least three two-week pay periods.

The government had blamed recent escalations in the backlog at least partly on a shift of pay centre employees to deal with changes brought about after the ratification of several civil service contracts, which required complex pay rate adjustments and calculations of retroactive back pay.

More than half of all federal employees have experienced pay problems ranging from being underpaid or overpaid or not paid at all since Phoenix was brought online just over two years ago, the government said.

Last month’s federal budget allocated $16 million over two years to the search for a Phoenix replacement, but that could be years away. In the meantime, federal employees continue to struggle with a pay system that has repeatedly failed.

The budget also opened the door to compensating civil servants for what it called the “real mental and emotional stress” caused by Phoenix.

Talks between the government and the unions that represent its workers over damages “have been advancing” since then, said the Public Service Alliance of Canada, although neither the unions nor Treasury Board Secretariat have revealed details of those discussions.

“For two years, our members have lived in fear every pay day; they have had their lives turned upside down; and through it all they have continued to show up to work and deliver the services Canadians depend on,” said PSAC national president Robyn Benson.

“An agreement on damages won’t solve everything, but it is an important part of making our members whole.”

It is so far estimated that the total cost of the debacle, from the creation of Phoenix to dealing with its problems, will reach or exceed $1 billion by the end of this year. When it was first adopted, the previous Conservative government had predicted the system would save taxpayers $70 million annually.

Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Nanaimo Astronomy Society to host Vancouver Island’s first AstroFest

AstroFest will showcase Island’s amateur and professional astronomical groups and activities

Nanaimo Sport Achievement Awards announce winners

VIU women’s volleyball is Team of the Year, Presidents Cup lacrosse is Sports Story of the Year

Vehicle smashes through front of furniture store in Nanaimo

No injuries reported in Friday afternoon incident on Mostar Road

Island Health dealing with ‘surge’ of measles vaccination requests in Nanaimo

No measles cases on Vancouver Island says Island Health

More sailings coming to 10 BC Ferries’ routes

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said the sailings were originally cut in 2014

High school students converge on Nanaimo for Skills Canada competition

Winners will head to provincial event in Abbotsford later this year

Beefs & Bouquets, Feb. 21

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail bulletinboard@nanaimobulletin.com

UPDATE: B.C. ticket holder winner of $25.9-million Lotto Max jackpot

Next draw set for Mar. 1 with an estimated jackpot of $10 million

Junior Team Canada brings home gold to B.C., again

In a 9-4 victory over Switzerland, a Langley-based curling team earned its 2nd straight world title

People gather for funeral of seven children killed in fast-moving Halifax fire

Traditional portion of the service will be followed by words from community members

B.C. weavers to help Alaska Native project honouring survivors of violence

Dozens of Chilkat and Ravenstail weavers from all over North America will be weaving 5-inch-by-5-inch squares

B.C. skip Sarah Wark and team eliminated at Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Nontheless pretty impressive stuff from the 24th-ranked team in the country

Pope’s sex abuse prevention summit explained

It’s A high-stakes meeting designed to impress on Catholic bishops the global problem

Reports of rashes prompt closure of all Harrison Hot Springs pools

Public pool available after Fraser Health shut down all five mineral pools until further notice

Most Read